Boston's Newbury Street Battles Back - With Elves

by , Dec 13, 2013, 10:52 AM
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It's been an ugly year for retailers on Boston's famous Newbury Street, with business off more than 40%. So merchants on the popular shopping strip are fighting back with a grown-up Elf Challenge, driven by Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and Instagram.

“It's been a tough year,” Michele Messino, executive director of the Newbury Street League, tells Marketing Daily. “It was a horrible winter, with two feet of snow in February. Then the bombings happened in April. Then it was 95 degrees in July, and people want to shop in air-conditioned malls when it's that hot, not here. Then we had the water/sewer project. It just hasn't been easy.”

So to reignite interest in the shopping area, merchants decided to pull out all the stops in a social media campaign that involves local luminaries, cops and any number of mobile elves. First, it commissioned a peppy new jingle and video,  "I'm on Newbury Street," from local crooner Vincent King.

Next, it created its own Elf Challenge, a social media twist on the popular kids "Elf-on-the-Shelf" game, giving each merchant an elf, and encouraging shoppers to find them and then post the elves through their own social media in order to win prizes. With the hashtag #NewburyStreetElf, the League then deputized a number of local media personalities as luminaries, assigning them each their own block of Newbury Street to patrol for elf sightings, and posting those on their networks. Messino has also tapped a team of elves from the Snowden International School, a public high school on Newbury Street, to go to stores each day, reminding them to post photos, as well.

The area is home to such brands as Burberry, H&M and Lululemon, as well as Restoration Hardware's lavish showroom in the old New England Museum of Natural History Building, formerly the home of LouisBoston. Known for some of the highest rents in the U.S., it's also the backdrop for an ever-changing mix of newer brands, including Bonobos, AllSaints SpitalFields, and the Fish & Bone, as well as long-term local favorites such as Newbury Comics and Betsy Jenney.

While the League doesn't track traffic or sales figure for its members, “people are starting to get it and loving it,” she says. “We’re not a mall so we don't track business in numbers. But we're seeing great numbers, in terms of hashtags, and have over two million impressions so far.” 

The plan is to keep momentum rolling as the holiday gets closer, including Holiday Stroll events and inviting the Boston Police Department to come take the Elf Challenge. (Proceeds for that will go to BPD's Cops for Kids With Cancer drive.)

“You can decorate the street and do great store windows,” says Messino. “But that doesn't bring people into the stores. This challenge does, and chances are, once they are inside, they will see something they like and spend some money.”

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