OfficeMax Elf Goes Beyond Viral

NEW YORK The OfficeMax elf is getting physical this year.

The office supplier last year ran a holiday digital campaign centered around 20 Web sites. The break out hit was elfyourself.com, which let people upload pictures of themselves onto the body of a dancing elf. From the end of last Thanksgiving 2006 until New Year’s Day, it garnered 40 million hits.

For this year’s effort—from Omnicom’s EVB in San Francisco and independent Toy, New York—the company revisits elfyourself and adds scroogeyourself, which lets people make a dancing Scrooge with their face on his body. The 20 sites from last year have returned, bringing this year’s grand total to 21.

So far, elfyourself, which went live the day after Thanksgiving, has 70 million hits as of yesterday, the company said.

In addition, the idea has morphed into offline media, with in-store items, circulars and a TV spot all using the elf concept. (Though the spot doesn’t show any actual elves, instead inviting viewers to “elf” their moms, senators and themselves.)

Previous online campaigns have taken on new life in traditional media, notably Coke Zero’s humorous “Can we sue us?” effort by Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

What’s different about OfficeMax, however, is that the company hopes to turn it into a holiday perennial for years to come.

“Every generation has to have its iconic Christmas tradition and I’m putting my money on this one,” said Bob Thacker, client svp, marketing. “It has become the viral equivalent of Rudolph or Frosty the Snowman,” which gained long-term popularity in animated TV specials first produced two generations ago.

Asked why more campaigns don’t start off as digital before spreading to other media, Daniel Stein, EVB’s CEO, said, “Because of convention and [the fact that] most agencies are thinking about TV and print first.”

Toy attributed the success of the campaign to its airy nature and overall wholesomeness. “What’s nice about elfyourself is it didn’t go deep. The only thing immersive about it is the way it makes you feel,” said Ari Merkin, founding partner, CCO at Toy. “It breaks a lot of the rules of viral: Its not edgy, no one gets hit in the groin, no one dies and no one gets publicly shamed.”

As for what comes next, Thacker said, “One thing we’ve heard is people wanting to save their elves. That may be an opportunity. We haven’t tried to exploit the elf. We don’t want to turn it into trash, we want people to treasure it.”