The latest holiday craze is the Elf on the Shelf, a popular new holiday tradition that’s based on a 2005 children's picture book. The story, which explains how Santa Claus knows who is naughty and who is nice, includes a doll and the mischievous elf’s location is supposed to change each day, providing children with the responsibility of locating its current perch.
The fun isn’t just for kids, however. Morehead State University Bookstore decided the holiday magic could just as easily be targeted at college students! This year, they created their own Morehead State Elf and encouraged their customers to hunt down his location around campus each day.
“It all started with a practical joke,” said Julie Ferguson, textbook manager. “For Halloween, we had a coffin in the store with a mannequin’s head in it as a decoration. After just two days, we noticed the head was missing and we watched the surveillance video to find out who stole it. It turned out that Sandy, our operations manager, had slipped up front, stole the head and hid it!”
“From there, we made a game out of it,” she continued. “Everyone searched for the head and, whoever found it first, hid it again and texted the staff a picture of the new location. It became a running joke. So, in one of our weekly marketing meetings, someone suggested that we get our customers involved for the holidays. The Elf on the Shelf is huge right now, so we thought it would be a perfect fit!”
Not just any elf would do, however. They made their own Morehead State costume for their special mascot to wear during the contest.
“He’s one of a kind!” Ferguson said. “Rebecca Holbrook, our merchandise manager, created the custom Morehead State outfit for him. We had lots of people ask us how they could buy one; we probably could have sold about 50.”
Two staff members transported the Elf, who was affectionately named Brady by another employee’s child, around campus and photographed him at over 20 different locations.
“We wanted to represent each department on campus, so we spent a day taking pictures everywhere from the administrative building to the library,” described Travis Keene, marketing coordinator. “Then, we chose the 10 best photos; one for each day of the promotion.”
The photos were posted to the store’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, prompting students to guess Brady’s location on that specific day. The first to respond with the correct answer was awarded a $10 store gift card.
“On the first day, it took about an hour to get a correct response. On the second day, it went down to 15 minutes. But, by the third day, we had a winner within two minutes; it’s been helping us generate a lot of interaction lightening fast,” he said. “We had several students tell us they were watching our social accounts to see when the next Brady picture was posted, which is great.”
Brady’s most popular destination included a ride on an ornament “wrecking ball” in homage to Miley Cyrus’ popular music video.
“We got a real laugh out of that one,” commented Ferguson.
“Everyone who saw it loved it,” added Keene. “It had three times the reach of our other images with 1,288 users reached and over 37 total comments across the three platforms.”
Providing yet another positive for the promotion, the store also saw an increase in followers on each of their social platforms.
“It hasn’t been a huge increase, about 12 or so per site, but it’s always nice to see that number go up,” Keene added. “It’s created a really good buzz with students.”
The store is also using their Where’s Brady? contest to generate excitement for other on-campus events, including buyback.
“For instance, when we posted a picture of Brady at the library, we highlighted the fact that they had extended hours during finals week. And, when he was in the Art department, we promoted an Art Sale that was going on simultaneously,” Rebecca Holbrook explained. “It’s been a good way to hype other events and show support for our campus departments.”
Overall, the staff believes that there’s one simple aspect that has made Brady’s contest so effective:
“It’s fun!” Ferguson emphasized.
“It’s something different and it’s getting students engaged,” agreed Cheryl Farmer, director. “We try to keep up with the times and this promotion was definitely on trend. It’s been a great success!”