Many Happy Returns: OfficeMax Brings Back ElfYourself

Elf Yourself/OfficemaxRetailers have been folding operations and handing out pick slips to employees as the holiday season approaches, but one office supply chain has temporarily swept ill tidings under the rug in an attempt to send holiday cheer. OfficeMax has brought back the ElfYourself.com viral marketing campaign sporting new features.

The online campaign ties together print ads, in-store displays, catalogs, promotional mailings, OfficeMax.com, and a Facebook page with a widget that enables users to place elf videos on profiles. A search campaign also will support efforts.

Search and online campaigns have become a critical part of the OfficeMax business strategy, because many of its products are heavily researched online, according to Bob Thacker, SVP of marketing and advertising at Naperville, Ill.-based OfficeMax. It began out of necessity when the retailer didn't have the budget to fund campaigns across TV and print. Thacker said it taught OfficeMax lessons early on how to use digital media and forge a connection with consumers.

OfficeMax looked for keywords relevant to ElfYourself. "They've already knocked at your door finding you through search engines," Thacker said. "You're talking to people already interested, which makes it focused marketing. To open the door on the other side and make them feel welcome, that's the next step."

The 2008 version of ElfYourself.com went live Saturday night. Media company JibJab, Los Angeles, owned by brothers Evan and Gregg Spiridellis, had to build out the data center to support the suspected traffic boost to the site.

OfficeMax chose JibJab to run the site this year after problems with bandwidth threatened to bring down ElfYourself.com in 2007 as traffic increased under the support of ElfYourelf creators EVB San Francisco and Toy New York, according to an OfficeMax spokesperson. It was a cold call from JibJab's that encouraged them to switch. OfficeMax, impressed by JibJab's track record of viral Staring You campaigns, decided to ink the deal with JibJab to increase the features of the campaign in 2008.

Visitors to the Web site can create elf-like dancing characters with their own likeness by uploading photos. The characters dance to music from Charleston and disco, to country and classic music.

G. Spiridellis said the propriety system relies on Adobe Flex and back-end processing to support photo generation, merchandising, and digital download capabilities through Star You, JibJab's personalized media platform. "We used the system for Pepsi last year," he said.

The ElfYourself site has a "Quick Post" option that lets site visitors place ElfYourself videos on MySpace, Friendster, BeBo, Live Spaces, Live Journal, and iGoogle. For $3.99, consumers can download the finished videos to PCs or create printed greeting cards and customize photo gifts such as coffee cups, ornaments and mouse pads.

Last year the ElfYourself site supported 193 million site visits. Consumers spent 2,600 years collectively on the site. It was visited by one in ten Americans and ranked No.1 in "Movers & Shakers" by Alexa Rankings. More than 40% of the people who tried the online app gave OfficeMax credit for bringing good will. Thirty percent of those said they would shop at the retailer.

Earlier this month, OfficeMax posted an earnings loss in the third quarter of more than $400 million, citing a charge tied to the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and economic weakness that sent demand for office supplies plummeting. The $754 million in charges was related to Lehman.

Excluding certain items, OfficeMax earned $28 million, or 36 cents per share, on $2.1 billion, down 10% from $2.32 billion in the year-ago quarter, on weakness in the company's retail and contract segments.

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