Elf on the Shelf with Christmas garland
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Elf on the Shelf: An Unexpected Lesson in Brand Loyalty

Today, it’s all about hyper individualism if you want customer loyalty. The ethos of decades past has waned from “for the good of the group” and evolved into the proliferation of personal validation and individual identity. In the group, you were one of many, just like everyone else. Now, we demand to be heard, understood, and designed for.

In essence, hyper individualism means personalization. And personalization means companies create empathetically for their customers. It’s through these lenses that Elf on the Shelf makes an interesting story of how to design empathy experiences and how the social data (provided by our own Listen product and Natural Language Processor) validates their success.


Ironically, when speaking of personalization, the elves look the same—Iconic bent knees, pointy hat, rosy cheeks, and that cheeky smile. The story is the same—Scout elves leave the North Pole and report back to Santa nightly on children’s behavior. Hardly a personalized experience I’d say. However, what they’ve done is create a framework through which Elf owners create unique experiences based on their personalities and nostalgic pasts.

This same scenario is played out elsewhere.

This empathetic framework is found in many different toys or consumer goods. For example, video games present the same characters, levels, and rewards to each player. But each of these elements creates a framework by which the player experiences the game uniquely to them.

Legos are a good non-digital example. Same bricks, same colors, same pieces, yet endless creations can be constructed unique to the builder based on personal preference and inspiration.

In this way, they are used as tools, or a means to an end. For example, this mom effectively used Elf on the Shelf to parent her children and get more sleep. Genius!

There is, however, one additional empathetic dynamic Elf on the Shelf introduces that these other examples don’t: Adult-Child accountability.


Accountability is the secret ingredient in developing empathy experiences. By being accountable to their children and the magic they believe in, parents empathize and rely on Elf on the Shelf more. By being accountable to their parents, children can expect magical experiences and enjoy the emotions of anticipation and surprise time and time again. It’s this accountability and personalized experience that builds loyalty to the beloved Elf on the Shelf. 

Our analysis verifies that surprise leads the emotions evoked, followed closely by anticipation. What is interesting is the emotion of fear! This could be validated by seeing the trending adjectives used to describe Elf on the Shelf. There are a lot of positive adjectives of course, but the word “creepy” does stand out.


We can safely deduce that most people fear the “creepy”. As magical as this Elf is, it’s also creepy with just how much it knows and sees. This is where a lot of criticism appears in conversation across social.


This is verified by the phrase “constant surveillance” showing up among others. The argument is that Elf on the Shelf normalizes surveillance and submission to external authority figures like Santa instead of true parental authority.

Other arguments trending from these negative phrases involve the unnecessary pressure parents place on themselves, hence the trending negative phrase, “Shelf Alarm,”—the need to set your alarm as to not forget your chore of moving the elf. And of all years, 2020 is not the year to add more to your mental overload as a coping parent some argue.

But again, this is where that brand loyalty shows up time after time. Those potential arguments to deter adopting an Elf on the Shelf are overridden by the unique capacity to create personalized experiences and accountability between adults and children. Take our emoji analysis for example.

The story these emojis tell is that the Elf brings the spirit of Christmas🎄, laughter 😂  😭 , love ❤️, humor 🤣 , playfulness 😜, and happiness 🥰 before it brings the eyeroll 🙄.

Yes, our emotion analysis suggested many reasons for surprise:

  • Surprised at the expansive world of elf on the shelf
  • Surprised it’s sold out, a disbelief that something like this could be sold out.
  • Surprised at the perceived stupidity of elf on the shelf and its potential adverse effects.
  • Surprise from the kids who anticipate its shifty behavior.

After diving deeply into our data, our analysis is that it’s no surprise there’s so much brand loyalty around Elf on the Shelf.

To learn more about how to utilize social data to gain insights and strategies into building brand loyalty, get a personalized demo.

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