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Putting the 'I' in viral makes web ads infectious


By Kenneth Hein


December 3, 2007


Go munk, elf or scrooge yourself; everyone else is. Viral campaigns that ask consumers to add their own picture or voice to a person or animal have yielded substantial results for brands like OfficeMax, Purina and Careerbuilder.

One of the latest viral efforts, “Munk yourself,” supports the Dec. 14 premiere of the Alvin and the Chipmunks movie. Visitors to can record a message in a chipmunk voice, via mic, phone or text-to-speech, and send it to their friends.

“When it comes to the chipmunks, you think of that Christmas song, that voice. Kids freak out over it,” said Hilary Hattenbach, vp-digital marketing at 20th Century Fox. The only other way to get it “is through helium balloons, but I’m not sure that’s PC anymore.”

Fox scored an earlier viral hit with The Simpsons Movie. More than 5.1 million Simpsons avatars have been created at Burger King’ has outpaced the Subservient Chicken in terms of page views. It had 77 million views between July 16 and Aug. 31. More than 40 million photos have been “Simpsonized.”

“It is basically the modern version of playing dress-up,” said Rob Reilly, creative director on the BK account at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Miami. “Now instead of putting on elaborate costumes and makeup, all you need to do is upload a picture and let the computer do the rest.”

One early such success story was New Line Cinema’s 2005 Wedding Crashers Trailer crasher videos. More than 300,000 fans created videos that placed their faces over the characters in the movie trailer.

Other current efforts include, where fans can upload their picture and become an end zone dancing football player.

OfficeMax has relaunched “Elf yourself” at Between this holiday season and last, consumers have created more than 9.5 million elves bearing faces from uploaded photos. The chain also has added this year. “It gives OfficeMax a heart and a personality,” said Bob Thacker, svp-marketing at OfficeMax, Naperville, Ill.

Best of all, “It’s inexpensive. The cost per click is so small there isn’t a denomination I can give you,” said Thacker. When asked why all companies don’t try it, he said, “Maybe they don’t have a small budget like we do.”’s Monk-e-mail, where consumers can record their voices over a short monkey clip, has seen more than 100 million Monk-e-mails sent since January 2006.

Purina followed suit with Doggie-mail (now one million users strong) and Kittie-mail launched in October at Oddcast, New York, handles. “The combination of customization and fun is just a winner,” said Kerry Lyman, rep at Purina, St. Louis.

B.J. Bueno, author of Cult Branding, said the attraction of these campaigns runs far deeper: “It appeals to the narcissistic nature of the mind. [Consumers] are in love with their own reflection and voice.”

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