Following on from the previous ElfYourself post, I found an article from Promo Magazine that talks about the 2006/2007 Christmas ElfYourself viral campaign. The article sings the praises of the little elfs - lots of mainstream press coverage, website traffic up, lots of buzz etc., etc. These are some of the specific highlights:
At its peak, this site generated an average of 41,000 elves per hour or 11 elves per second. Revelers created 11 million elves in all, and the site drew 36 million visitors in the five weeks it was up, from Nov. 27 through Jan. 1. Better yet, it helped boost traffic at OfficeMax.com by 20%.So three is no doubt a lot of elves were created. Yet did any of this translate into real worth for OfficeMax? A 20% rise in traffic on the site seems good but if you look at Alexa (and yes, Alexa has issues with its sample), www.officemax.com had similar increases in the three years prior to running the campaign - it's called the 'holiday shopping season'.
If you look at Google Trends for 'Office Max' searches, you get similar results - the years without the campaign look pretty good in comparison - although there is a slight upward trend recently.
Besides, some increase is to be expected. If you have a viral campaign that generates tens of millions of page views, you would expect just by sheer chance x% of those people clicking through to OfficeMax just curious to see what else is happening. Are they motivated to purchase once they are there? Maybe. Given that it's a web campaign it shouldn't be hard to figure out yet I can only find site traffic statistics, not incremental sales, as a success metric for last year's effort.
When you do a brand campaign in a non-direct response medium such as TV or radio, you accept the limitations of measurement. Surveying and tracking awareness and changing impressions towards your brand is about the best you can do (not always, but usually). There is no such excuse on the Net. The medium is demonstrably measurable. If you set it up right, you should be able to measure the incremental sales effect of an effort such as this. As well as the brand effect.
Maybe OfficeMax did measure it this way? If they did, you would think they would be shouting sales metrics from the roof if it was successful.
I think marketing in general would be considerably better off if its practitioners were more transparent about success and failure. The worst is to tout victory for efforts like this with scant proof that they do indeed work.
Fred Wilson, a prominent NYC VC, posted about this campaign on his blog - 'expect to see more efforts like this' was his summation. He rightly points out that the CPM (cost per thousand impressions) is far superior to a TV effort. That's true, but it doesn't lessen the need for the return to still prove profitable. Making nothing off less is still making nothing. Kudos to Matthew Reinbold for pointing this out in the first comment.
It's not hard to REACH people with an idea. It's not even that hard to make the idea MEANINGFUL to them. It's dam hard to translate that meaning into VALUE for your brand or your bottom line.
Despite all this though, I still made an elf. An action I will caveat with the fact that I did click through to the OfficeMax site, was there for 10 seconds, bought absolutely nothing and probably won't go back until next year when the call of the elf dance echoes on the web once more.
Merry Christmas everyone!
PS: I don't think I make a good elf, lol.