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Elf Yourself is a worldwide phenomenon from Office Depot OfficeMax that spreads holiday cheer using fun and interactive shareable content with a downloadable app. Globally, 1.5 billion elves have been created since the application was first introduced in 2006. New in 2017, the iconic Elf Yourself app has been upgraded with new and improved features including augmented reality, new dances, plus the option to customize, order & print Elf Yourself holiday cards that capture still images of users as costumed dancing elves.
The new augmented reality (AR) feature lets friends, family and co-workers get into the holiday spirit by integrating themselves as dancing elves in whatever space they like – from a living room to your office desk and more. Beyond the endless possibilities available through AR to replace the background using a cell phone camera, there are also three fresh dance scenes. Users can select mischievous elves sneaking out of Santa’s workshop under the Northern Lights; elves in Santa’s Workshop; and elves busy prepping to the music and lyrics of Bachman-Turner Overdrive. The Bachman-Turner tune “Taking Care of Business” is the Office Depot OfficeMax anthem.
Holiday traditions go beyond elves. A Hanukkah dance was first introduced in 2015 when it received a No.1 app store ranking. For 2017, a brand new hip-hop themed Hanukkah dance helps share the fun across family holiday traditions. The Mensch on a Bench has teamed up with Office Depot Office Max to create an engaging Hanukkah dance that includes the Jewish a cappella group Six13 singing holiday tunes, such as “I Have a Little Dreidel,” paired with a street style dance-off.
Aspiring elves and Hanukkah dancers can upload up to five photos from their camera roll, Facebook or the app. Once the dance theme is chosen, the app generates a custom Elf Yourself video. Users share their customized videos on social media, too, and are encouraged to include the hashtag: #ElfYourself.
Elf yourself early logo
Type of site
|Website||Elf Yourself website|
|Current status||Holiday season only|
|free for users|
Elf Yourself is an American interactive viral website where visitors can upload images of themselves or their friends, see them as dancing elves, and have the option to post the created video to other sites or save it as a personalized mini-film. The video and website were created by Evolution Bureau (EVB), in collaboration with New York company "Toy." for Office Max's holiday season advertising campaign. The Elf Yourself website and advertising campaign first launched for the Christmas holiday season in early December 2006, and has returned each subsequent season. According to ClickZ, visiting the site "has become an annual tradition that people look forward to".After being contracted by OfficeMax to create multiple websites for their holiday campaign, "Toy." contracted with Evolution Bureau to create a suitable holiday-themed website and application. Evolution Bureau then developed the Elf Yourself application for use with the OfficeMax holiday marketing campaign. The original release featured only one elf, portrayed by Danielle Bárcena, and received 200 hits a second. In later releases, additional elves were added to the application and viewers could upload different images for each elf. Still later, social media applications were added, included those allowing viewers to save and/or download the films they had created through visiting the website.
The project began in July 2006, when Mark Andeer and Bob Thacker, OfficeMax's senior vice-president for advertising and marketing, contacted "Toy." to create 20 humorous, holiday-themed web sites. "Toy." Evolution Bureau, who in turned created Elf Yourself, the site which proved to be the most successful of the 20, receiving attention from CNN and NBC's Today Show. Thacker explained that his budget for creation of all 20 sites was less than the cost of one 30-second television commercial.
In 2006, when originally released, the site with its single elf, played by Danielle Bárcena, received over 36 million visits in five weeks; 11 million elves were created, exceeding production's expectations.
Beginning in 2007, EVB updated the site to allow more elves, bringing back the original elf, Danielle Bárcena, and adding others, allowing viewers to choose to upload different images for each one. During that second season, viewership rose to over 193 million visits, with the creation of 123 million elves, quadrupling in six weeks the amount of traffic the site had in five weeks the year previously. Based upon the success of Elf Yourself, and in response to the site being imitated by "many shamelessly derivative knockoffs", Toy." had EVB develop and release the related holiday website Scrooge Yourself for "Toy." and OfficeMax. By February 2009, over one million Scrooges had been created.
In 2008, OfficeMax partnered with JibJab and added a registration requirement in order to use the site. Traffic dropped to 56 million. JibJab and JibJab worked to "enhance the performance and distribution of the videos."
In 2009, the campaign being run by JibJab, the registration requirement was dropped, and social elements were added. Building upon the earlier EVB version, JibJab used their own "Starring you" platform to allow a viewer to make customized uploads of images to the Elf site from the viewer's Facebook account and to then post their personalized Elf Yourself video back to their Facebook profile. Also included were options allowing viewers to tweet their creations, post them to other network sites, or download them as personal videos. New dances were added to the elves' repertoire, among which were disco and country dancing.
Also in 2009, to further promote the Elf Yourself website, OfficeMax contracted with Tribal DDB and Grand Central Marketing to create a flash mob of 400 dancers dressed in Elf Yourself costumes. The "mob" invaded New York's Union Square on November 3, 2009. Converging onto Union Square from all different directions, the 400 met at the center and engaged in a series of choreographed dance routines mimicking those found on the Elf Yourself site. The resulting video was posted to YouTube and received over 52,000 views by November 13, 2009, and over 1.17 million views by May 31, 2012. The event is listed among "The Top 10 Flash Mobs of 2009" by BuzzFeed.
In 2012, OfficeMax's Executive Producer, Rock Fraire revamped Elf Yourself and, although with fewer dances, the Elf Yourself process became much easier than previously. In 2012, an iOS app was added, including a new Elf-Yourself logo. In December 2012, Elf Yourself was the number one downloaded entertainment app and the number two overall downloaded app on iTunes (second only to GoogleMaps). Elf Yourself also changes from being powered by JibJab to being powered by Oddcast, and for 2013, OfficeMax added 4 news dances, as well as an Android app.
For the 2013 holiday season, Elf Yourself was once again activated. Again hosted by Oddcast.com and using the same user-friendly processes as previous year, the site includes new dance themes: these are Honky Tonk, EDM, Español, and Office Party. Due to complaints in 2012 about quality, 2013 offers better resolution video.
In 2015, a new video featuring Cats was added, to the tune of 12 Days of Christmas (but they only sing up to the 7th day).
When the site is inactive, OfficeMax provides the website with a placeholder image informing viewers that "the elves have left the building".
Brand Republic reported on the insertion of personal images, stating "while the idea has been widely used in other applications, OfficeMax's version has become an internet phenomenon." Adweek reported "Elf Yourself has hit the bull's-eye of viral success: It has seeped into pop culture. Broadcasters at several local stations, The Today Show and Good Morning America created their own dancing holiday greeting for viewers." In Social Media Judo, it was pointed out that while OfficeMax hoped Elf Yourself would "warm up" its corporate image, "the overwhelming majority of customers who saw Office Max's popular marketing campaign gave credit to the company's top competitors." In addressing the creation of the 20 microsites created for OfficeMax, Adland called Elf Yourself "a strange, corny, yet enormously successful website." They observed that while 19 of the sites had modest success, it was "nothing like the level of action that came out of the Elf Yourself site," and that, as created by EVB and TOY., the site "not only transcended the online genre; it transcended advertising and became the kind of cultural event that marketers dream of." 
Awards and nominations
- 2007, won Retail Advertising and Marketing Association RACies Award for 'Interactive Online Campaign'
- 2008, won three Ad:Tech Awards: 'Best Word of Mouth Marketing Campaign', 'Best User Defined Experience', and 'Best of Show'.
- 2008, won SXSW Interactive 'Award for Web Amusement'.
- 2008, won Retail Advertising and Marketing Association RACies Award for 'Interactive Online Campaign'
Jib Jab's spin-off
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With their release from maintaining and hosting Elf Yourself for Office Max, Jib Jab has developed Elf Madness! as a personalized, email-able greeting card on their own platform. Changes for EM! allow viewers to create up to 20 dancing elves in a manner similar to Elf Yourself, as well as the option to add the creator's own background and a personalized message. Upon registration and payment, logged-in viewers can then email their cards to others.
- With more than 480 million users in 215 countries, as many elves have been created as there are children in the world. Elf Yourself has been downloaded over 65 million times since transitioning from an online platform to smartphone app in 2012. See:Business Wire. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20151104005115/en/Office-Depot-Elf-Yourself%C2%AE-App-Creates-Billion
- December 10, 2015 Business Insider Article: Why the Ridiculous 'Elf Yourself' App is Dominating the App Store
- The lyricist for the English version is Samuel S. Grossman.
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- Official website (active only during holiday season)