Elfing Himself: Q&A With Office Max’s Bob Thacker

Bob Thacker, the senior vice president-marketing and advertising at Office Max, has elfed himself again. This is the fourth year the office supplies retailer has run its holiday ElfYourself campaign. The number of visitors to ElfYourself.com dropped last year, but Thacker says engagement by those visitors rose, which is part of the reason ElfYourself.com has returned for 2009. MULTICHANNEL MERCHANT senior writer Tim Parry caught up with Thacker to talk about the history and enhancements to ElfYourself.

Is America in love with these dancing elves?
ElfYourself has become a greatly anticipated holiday tradition for many and become a revered part of popular culture that everyone can enjoy each holiday season. People love traditions, which is why we use the same Christmas ornaments on our trees every year and why we’re willing to eat fruit cake. As the holidays near each year, we see a significant spike in visits to ElfYourself.com, and this year, we’re excited to bring new dances and social media features for users to enjoy.

Is this the first year that Facebook and Twitter have been used as part of the ElfYourself campaign?
Yes, ElfYourself is now full of Twitter and Facebook connectivity. ElfYourself users can connect to Facebook via Facebook Connect and select a picture from any album, making the process easier and more efficient.

Plus, users can automatically post their custom greetings to their own walls or friends’ walls, spreading ElfYourself further than before. Users can also post links to their eGreetings on Twitter.

Through these additions, we hope to enable a deeper social media experience that users can readily enjoy and share in their preferred digital platform.

What are you hoping to get from the social media side of things: Is it page views, brand-awareness, or actual sales?
Through deeper social media engagement, we hope we encourage more consumers to be a part of ElfYourself. We believe in giving consumers content that is relevant to their lives and adds to their daily experiences. Through ElfYourself.com, OfficeMax is able to create an entertaining, rewarding experience for consumers and help them stay in touch with loved ones during the busy holiday season.

How long has OfficeMax been using social media, and what do you mainly use the channel for?
ElfYourself certainly gave us a great initiation into what’s now known as social media.

OfficeMax started to engage with consumers through Facebook starting in 2008. We leverage Facebook to interact with customers, become a resource for them, provide useful information, surprise and delight them, and more. Facebook gives OfficeMax the opportunity to directly interact with customers, so we strive to shower them with content that provides value.

Have you ever considered social media to be a sales channel vs. a marketing channel?
The sales-pitch approach to social media is all hooey and rude. People that do that don’t understand the etiquette of the Web. Being social means you also have to have social graces. You don’t go up to a group of strangers at a part and say “buy this.” It’s like panhandling, and those marketers who do that get shut off.

How has ElfYourself grown since 2006 as an online campaign in terms of page views, site visits, etc.?
ElfYourself.com has secured more than 284 million site visits during the holiday season since it launched in 2006. These site visits were measured over only a two-month period each year when the site was live. Of these 284 million site visits, 256 million elves have been created by ElfYourself users.

Site visits grew from 36 million in 2002 to 193 million in 2007, but dropped to 56 million last year. With that kind of dip, why did you bring it back for 2009?
Although the number of visits is fewer, there was a deeper level of engagement and brand association in 2008, with users spending an average of 15 minutes per visit vs. 2007 where users spent an average of 7.5 minutes per visit. And there were 122 million elves created last year, compared to 123 million in 2007.

Our research said that said 98% of people surveyed who created elves over the course of the campaign have wanted ElfYourself to return. We were also seen as an innovative company by 72% of those surveyed, while 62% saw OfficeMax is a fun company and 64% saw us as a merchant that cared about its customers.

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