Elves and Mistletoe Put Viral Campaigns in the Holiday Spirit

Holiday greetings old and new are capturing attention from consumers. The return of Office Max’s ElfYourself.com gets a new twist, and Sephora offers MistletoeMakeover.com for a fresh holiday look.

For the third year Office Max is running Elf Yourself, a site that allows visitors to upload a photo to personalize one or more dancing elves and send to friends. Each year there have been new additions and enhancements. Last year more elves were added. This year, rather than partnering with agencies it had worked with in previous years, EVB and Toy, Office Max worked with JibJab, using its video and greeting card personalization platform.

“Last December Office Max was the number one [holiday] Web site, and JibJab was number two. It seemed pretty obvious to us [to talk to them] about taking the production values to the next level,” Gregg Spiridellis, co-founder of JibJab told ClickZ in an interview. “We cold-called Office Max in January and started that discussion.”

Production on the campaign began over the summer. The firms updated previous iterations of Elf Yourself using JibJab’s Starring You platform, which allows users to customized images by uploading their own photos. Much of the look and feel of last year’s campaign still exists, though. “There was this incredible simplicity and beauty of the product. For us it was, ‘What can we do on the creative side?’ ” said Spiridellis.

This time around, JibJab took the classic elf dance and added a country theme, a Charleston, and a disco boogie.

The campaign is “already ahead of where we were last year at the same time,” said Bob Thacker, SVP of marketing at Office Max. “We’re ahead of expectations, and expectations were very high,” he added.

While it’s too early for Office Max to reveal results for this year, last year’s site attracted 193 million site visits, and the 2006 site drew 36 million visits. After the first year, a duplication of that same success seemed daunting. “We didn’t want to do it [again] in 2007 because we said we’d never get the same number of people, and then got 193 million,” said Daniel Stein, CEO of EVB, the creative agency involved the first two years.

ElfYouself could be due for at least a few more years. “Do you see anybody getting rid of Christmas trees? Fruitcake is here forever; it’s become a holiday tradition, and holiday traditions are really fascinating because people seem to want it to return again,” said Thacker. “There’s a lot of pent-up demand. We had people constantly demanding the site, which has been dormant for nine months.”

This time around, with the help of JibJab, not only can site visitors send their elfin images to their friends, they can order personalized merchandise such as mugs, ornaments, and t-shirts. They can also purchase downloads of their elf video and save it to a DVD or iPhone.

Thacker said he hopes to work with EVB again in the future. The agency just released a holiday viral campaign for cosmetics retailer Sephora. “Everyone seems to be looking to do a holiday card or some sort of holiday campaign,” said EVB’s Stein. “And in keeping with the trends of the past, smaller brands seem to be less interested in paid media,”

Sephora’s MistletoeMakeover.com lets site visitors upload a photo and get one of this season’s four makeovers. The looks include “Smokey Sugar Plum,” “Merry Berry,” “Santa’s Little Temptress,” and “O, Tannen Babe.” EVB and Sephora worked with makeover site TAAZ to pull off the virtual makeovers.

“Those looks that we’ve created with the makeover are all legitimate looks that Sephora is promoting this year. You can purchase the look. It’s all practical for the user if they like what they see,” said Jaime Robinson, associate creative director at EVB.

Like the ElfYouself site, the MistletoeMakeover viral went live over the weekend and is reported to have received positive response. Sephora is promoting the campaign on its Web site and through its e-mail newsletter. It is also gaining attention through viral pass-alongs. Stein said that while Sephora’s clientele is primarily female, and the campaign is geared towards that audience, men are not immune to a makeover.

Sephora is offering consumers a free lipstick sample or fake lashes with purchase at Sephora.com to consumers who enter the code Winkorkiss, which is revealed as part of the holiday e-card.

EVB was also behind a promotion for the A&E show “MindFreak,” in which illusionist Criss Angel “guesses” a user’s name (even though it’s been supplied by a friend).

“When it comes to viral stuff, what works is content that is personal or customizable,” said Stein. “When you make somebody the star, make movies, videos, make somebody themselves, it’s so much more fun for people.”

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