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Case Study: How a Viral Campaign Gave OfficeMax Brand Recognition, Drove Shoppers

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Company: OfficeMax, Inc.
Contact: Bob Thacker, Senior VP of Marketing and Advertising
Location: Naperville, Ill.
Industry: Retail (B2C, B2B)
Annual revenue: $8,960,000,000
Number of employees: 35000

Originally published on 2/5/2008

Quick Read

OfficeMax, Inc. is one of the world's largest B2B and B2C office supply chains. Listed on the New York Stock Exchange (OMX), the chain sells to customers in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Its biggest sales season is the annual back-to-school period in its markets.

But the chain also sells digital cameras, televisions, and other products that are popular during the holiday season, and OfficeMax sought to inform customers that it could be a destination for their holiday shopping. Furthermore, internal research found that customers often confused OfficeMax with its chief rival, which has a very similar name. Company officials wondered how they could distinguish themselves and simultaneously encourage customers to visit their stores for holiday shopping.


OfficeMax tried an interactive approach for the holiday seasons of 2006 and 2007. The company sponsored a special Web site where customers could create online "elves" that could be used in personal email greetings. The site was a global hit, and by December 2007 it became the 51st most-visited site on the web, according to Hitwise. About 1 in 10 Americans online visited the site, and it was the No. 1 entertainment site visited by Australians that month, according to Hitwise.

The Challenge

OfficeMax, Inc. gets much of its annual sales during the back-to-school season. To expand its sales base, OfficeMax sought to establish itself as a holiday shopping destination as well. Furthermore, it wanted to distinguish itself as much as possible from its competitors.

"When you think of holiday shopping, you don't think office supplies," noted Bob Thacker, OfficeMax senior vice president of marketing and advertising. "But we do sell electronics and other items for the holidays."

Thacker needed an exercise in brand differentiation, but he wanted it done in a fun way to which customers would respond. His team hired two agencies to create special Web sites that would help elevate the brand perception of OfficeMax through humor and entertainment.

The Campaign

Before the 2006 holiday season, OfficeMax hired two interactive marketing agencies—Toy NY and EVB San Francisco—to come up with fun sites that would help distinguish OfficeMax from its competitors. The agencies created about 20 different Web sites, including nine holiday games and sites to create e-cards. The e-card sites included www.elfyourself.com, www.reindeerarmwrestling.com and www.greetingsfromthenorth.com (i.e., the North Pole).

Office Max worked with several general-audience blogs to spread interest about the campaign: the New York Times's BITS Blog, US Weekly magazine's blog, Rosie Chat, Donna's Promo Talk, and Metric Marketing.

The Elf Yourself site proved to be most popular of the multiple sites created. It allowed visitors to upload up to four photos and record a personal message through a toll-free number. The face or faces were then attached to an animated Elf body, the voice was processed to sound elf-like, and the result was a dancing or talking Elf that could be forwarded to friends or posted on a personal Web site or blog.

The site had an impressive 36 million visitors, and 11 million elves were created. More than 100 You Tube users uploaded personal Elf Yourself videos. The results were strong enough that Office Max decided to repeat the campaign the following year.

For the 2007 holiday season, Office Max brought back Elf Yourself and Reindeer Arm Wrestling, along with some new holiday sites, such as www.scroogeyourself.com and www.savethesnowman.com. It again worked with blogs to help spread the word: Geeksugar.com, US Weekly magazine's blog, Rosie Chat, Donna's Promo Talk and Metric Marketing were among those that wrote about the campaign.

While Scrooge Yourself showed some traction, the elf site again proved by far to be the most popular. It grew virally, with millions of users sending Elf Yourself email greetings to friends and more than 400 people uploading their Elf Yourself video to You Tube.

Results

By the second holiday season, ElfYourself.com had become an online holiday destination. When the site was active, between Nov. 20., 2007 and Jan 2, 2008:

  • More than 193 million site visits with 123 million elves created
  • 60 elves created per second
  • Site ranted No. 51 most-visited on the Web (Hitwise)
  • Some 53% of visitors returned to the siteRanked No. 1 on "Movers & Shakers" (Alexa Rankings)
  • Ranked among top 1,000 sites in 50 countries (Alexa)
  • Featured on CNN, ABC World News, Fox News Good Morning America, Today Show, USA Today

A follow-up survey conducted by OfficeMax found:

  • 63% of participants who shop for office supplies at least 10 times per year were aware of Elf Yourself.
  • 95% of those who visited Elf Yourself claimed they would likely visit Elf Yourself again in 2008.
  • More than one-third of those who visited Elf Yourself said the site influenced their decision to visit OfficeMax, and about one-third of visitors said the site improved their perception of OfficeMax.

"The campaign exceeded our expectations by tenfold," said Thacker. "It dramatically increased awareness of our brand." The company is likely to repeat the campaign for the 2008 holiday season, he said.

Lessons Learned

  • Cater to your audience. OfficeMax recognized that while most of its customers use the Internet as an information source, they also appreciate a novel experience. "We gave people something enticing to do, and they spent a long time with us, an average of seven minutes," said Thacker.
  • Don't be afraid to experiment with different sites and strategies. "We tried 20 different holiday sites (in 2006) and saw which ones stuck," Thacker said.
  • Don't forget the power of fun. By making the site enjoyable to use, users flocked to it and spread the word themselves, creating a viral marketing campaign.

Related Links

Note: Annual sales figure is for full-year 2006. Employee count is current estimate.


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Comments

  • by Ray Ortega Tue Dec 23, 2008 via web

    This shows the importance of Branding which is the best asset that a Company has and need to be promoted all the time. Also shows that having fun you create value.

  • by Michael Knipp Tue Dec 23, 2008 via web

    I doubt any specifics have been published on Staples' viral holiday campaign yet, but we posted an item about it on our blog, Hiring The Internet. The direct link to the post is here: http://hiringtheinternet.com/2008/11/20/10001-winners-staples-scores-with-c...

    Not only is this campaign uber clever, but it effectively uses social marketing to drive its message. The campaign's fictional spokesperson - more of an anti-hero, really - does such a great job keeping this thing alive. If you haven't already, look into it. It's worth the effort. You can find it at www.GiftItForFree.com

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