5 minute read.

The Elf on the Shelf Christmas Guide to Viral Content Marketing

Paul Anthony / December 17, 2013

Posted in: Archive



This little guy, is Buddy the Elf.  He’s a mischievious little content marketer. Some of you might recognise him as “The Elf on the Shelf” – the toy character accompanying the children’s Christmas book. If you aren’t familiar with the book – this description from Wikipedia gives a decent run down of what it is about, and how it works. For those of you with kids, you’ll probably already know about it:

The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition is a 2005 children’s picture book, written and self-published by American author Carol Aebersold and daughter Chanda Bell and illustrated by Coë Steinwart, featuring a Christmas-themed tale, written in rhyme, that explains how Santa Claus knows who is naughty and who is nice. Every day, the elf’s position changes, providing the family with the responsibility of locating its current perch before its departure for the year on Christmas Eve.

It is also currently one of the web’s most viral Christmas products. The Elf doll and book have only been marketed to the masses since 2005, and since then, almost six million have been sold. Even the frickin’ Kardashian’s have one.

I was first introduced to this book and concept by my sister Claire, and have since experienced an endless barrage of images and updates, detailing all of the antics that this particular cheeky Elf gets up to at Christmas. When the kids are sleeping, the adults get an opportunity to change his position for the next day, generating some of the humorous photo scenes pictured below. 


As marketeers, there is so much we can learn from this particular product, that can be applied to whatever it is you are selling.  What is fascinating for me, is the sheer volume of social content being shared around something which is, at it’s core a toy wooden doll with an accompanying book.

Right now, with a 5 minute search on the social web – here’s just a brief snippet of what I was able to find:

Dedicated Websites –


Elf on the Shelf ideas 

Facebook Groups

The Official Elf on the Shelf Facebook page. 

Elf on the Shelf Ideas

Social Sites

Twitter Searches

Reddit Searches

Pinterest – literally thousands of pins

Google Blog Search  (last 24 hours)

Literally, everywhere I turn now on the web, I find this little guy staring back at me. It’s like HE KNOWS!

So why all the fuss?

There are a couple of reasons I believe they have obtained critical mass and traction now. The toy has taken on a life of his own, and you’ll have no problem finding Elf on the Shelf content on the run up to Christmas.

It’s about telling stories.

Their product is a story built to create memories that people can’t wait to share.  Word of mouth marketing is still one of the best ways to reach an audience, and the Elf on the Shelf at its core facilitates both adults and kids to tell stories, and perfectly captures the imagination of it’s audience. People want to share in the joy that a mischievous elf can bring about, and they do so in abundance on Facebook and other social networks.


Build your product around a story.  Great stories succeed because they are able to capture the imagination of large, important or influential audiences.  (p.s. If you can create something that makes parents believe they will get well behaved kids for a month that helps too! )

Creativity and remixing content rocks

Every day, Buddy the Elf changes position. Showing up somewhere new in the house. Somewhere unpredictable, and half the fun is seeing how your kids and others react to that. There are no set rules of how to play with Elf, which is far more effective marketign than writing the rules and announcing the punch line.


If your product can be shaped and moulded to let other people tell their story, you win. Elf on the Shelf as a concept facilitates user generated content as it lets people take something mundane, i.e. a wooden doll, and come up with something unique, different and funny (daily).

The product is seasonal

Sure, its something that only gets sold around Christmas, and there is a lull in sales throughout the year, but Christmas is viral content season, because people love to talk about it, and wrap themselves around it. Cleverly, Elf on the Shelf has managed to position itself as not only a toy, but a Christmas tradition that people share with others.


You don’t always have to be in people’s mindset to win. Sometimes, working on a niche audience at a particular time of the year (think of all those websites dedicated to Black Friday sales etc. ) is enough to make people sit up and notice.  I’ve blogged how important season content is before, and Elf on the Shelf fits the bill with how to capture an audience at a particular time of year.

All of the above lessons in marketing directly to your website, your content or your marketing, and with some help from the Elf , you might just end up capturing the imagination of a global audience too.

  • content marketing
  • elf on the shelf

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