One might think having the year’s biggest viral marketing hit would be any business’s dream come true. Unfortunately, though, not all Web traffic is equal, and popularity contests don’t pay the bills.
According to Advertising Age, 26.4 million people spent a total of 2,600 years at ElfYourself.com, turning themselves and unsuspecting family members and coworkers into virtual dancing elves. But chances are that unless you’re a marketer, blogger, or anyone else who might have bothered to notice in the first place, you’ve likely forgotten that OfficeMax was behind the “Elf Yourself” campaign.
Don’t take my word for it. Ask anyone who’s aware of Elf Yourself — and pronounce it carefully when you do — whether they can recall who sponsored the campaign.
Most of the answers I’ve gotten thus far (“Starbucks?”; “Barnes & Noble?”; “Wasn’t that Staples?”) have been guesses.
As OfficeMax VP of Marketing and Advertising, Bob Thacker, sold it to AdAge,
“We were looking to build the brand, warm up our image. We weren’t looking for sales. We are third-place players in our industry, so we are trying to differentiate ourselves through humor and humanization.”
Really? Not even looking for sales? Wow. If that’s the case, why even bother linking the campaign’s site to OfficeMax.com?
The article goes on to suggest that since many of those who searched for Elf Yourself around the time used the phrase “OfficeMax,” that must somehow mean their branding effort paid off. And that makes sense — so long as you ignore that it seems most people discovered the dancing elves via email and instant messenger, not search.
Get Elastic‘s Linda Bustos sparked some debate about all of this, asserting that,
“Brand awareness is extremely valuable and important, especially in OfficeMax’ competitive industry. It might not result in immediate sales, but it should impact long term market position. Social media marketing (including blogging, podcasting and interactive viral campaigns) is a long-term strategy. It’s not a newspaper circular, it’s not PPC advertising, it’s not email marketing. Like celebrity endorsement or a Super Bowl ad, it won’t necessarily drive sales during a specific time period.”
Absolutely. But should the successful use of cute gimmickry — so long as it attracts a large, albeit random, audience of people who aren’t in buying mode, to a site that links to homepage, for a business that sells office supplies — be considered an automatic win?
So, millions of people go to a site that has little (no offense, elves) to do with the brand. No attempt is even made to engage would-be customers in a buying scenario (“Elf Yourself and save 10% on last-minute holiday treats when at OfficeMax.com”). No… nothing? That’s branding!?
One of the folks who commented on Linda’s post makes a telling point about the SEO logistics at play:
[...] this is search engine dynamite! The domain elfyourself.com (which is linked to by nearly 30,000 other websites) links directly (and only) to the officemax.com homepage. Conventional internet marketing dictates that this will have a huge impact on officemax.com’s ability to rank in Google on competitive terms. I’d love to see their stats – I bet it’s a big win.
Rank well on “competitive terms” — for whom? Elves? In a lot of other circumstances, this would be a great point, but in this case, it’s yet another example of why “conventional internet marketing” wisdom is misleading. Getting the extra traffic feels nice — and often impresses the boss — but there’s one thing that always feels better: Money.
Still, let’s see how much traffic Elf Yourself is driving to OfficeMax.com:
Not much of a traffic boost, is it?
But, hey, this wasn’t about traffic or revenue — it was about fun, right? Not for Toy New York, the agency that developed Elf Yourself. Nope. As Linda pointed out to me in the comments on her post, they’re the ones who are probably benefiting the most from this.
Looks like she’s got a pretty good point…
How about shareholder value? Kevin Horne points out that this is the second year in a row that the elves stuffed coal in the OMX stock price:
[...] in 2006, the company actually reported a decline of some $7 million in retail sales in its fourth quarter, 11 million “elf visitors” notwithstanding. Or notwithclicking either, apparently. Talk about squandering an opportunity. Two years in a row.
Oh well, at least OfficeMax got some national press coverage out of this. Let’s see what happens in this clip from Good Morning America:
Don’t get me wrong. I like the elves. It just seems that, since they’re already such hard workers, why not put them to work? (Even Santa’s got that figured out.)
Before you elf yourself out of millions in missed revenue from a viral marketing campaign, ask yourself: What good are millions of visitors if they don’t buy millions in goods?
Sometimes it takes better planning.