OfficeMax Brings Back ElfYourself

Elf Yourself/OfficeMaxRetailers have been folding operations and handing out pink 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 viral marketing campaign, sporting new features.

The online campaign ties together print ads, in-store displays, catalogs, promotional mailings,, and a Facebook page with a widget that enables users to place elf videos on profiles. A search campaign will also 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 that were 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 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. Visitors to the Web site can create elf-like dancing characters with their own likenesses by uploading photos. The characters dance to music ranging from the Charleston and disco to country and classic music.

Gregg 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 goodwill. 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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