As the pandemic canceled in-person gatherings, e-greeting company JibJab saw demand surge for its personalized video cards that users customize with photos of themselves or friends and family.
A video card it released this spring, Happy Quarantine Birthday, was an instant hit and has become the most popular birthday card in the company’s history.
“No matter who you are, you want to see friends and family. If you can’t, you have to find another way to feel connected or give them that special laugh and gift, and we seem to have filled that void really well with this card,” Paul Hanges, JibJab CEO, told CO—.
In the first nine months of this year, JibJab users made 5.6 million video birthday cards, up from three million last year, driven in large part by the popularity of the quarantine birthday card. Other card categories have also seen big spikes. Easter cards and thank-you cards both surged 73%; Mother’s Day cards jumped 65%; and Father’s Day cards increased by 50%.
The success of the quarantine card, with its humorous take on masks, hand sanitizer and Zoom meetings, marks a return to JibJab’s roots, when it was known for timely satire on topical subjects.
The popularity of the quarantine birthday card has shown the benefit of creating timely, original content.
JibJab was a digital entertainment company producing commercials and content until a video it made went viral in 2004.
The animated video, “This Land,” poked equal amounts of fun at then-presidential candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry. It drew millions of views and got JibJab’s founders, brothers Gregg and Evan Spiridellis, invited on The Tonight Show.
JibJab evolved into an e-greetings company, with subscribers paying to create personalized videos that they can send as greeting cards, images or short video clips in text messages. It continued to create political satire videos and commentaries until 2014, when it decided the country was too divided even for its brand of bipartisan humor.
Now, with new ownership and a new CEO, JibJab is looking to create more content that addresses current events.
JibJab’s big break: ‘starring you’ videos
JibJab was founded in Brooklyn in 1999. In 2007, the company launched the “starring you” technology that gave JibJab videos their distinction. It enabled users to insert their mugs into the videos, transforming themselves into animated figures with oversized heads and hinged jaws. Some might look at them now and say, ‘It’s so dated,’” Hanges said. “But we say it’s classic. You know who it is as soon as you see it. It’s the style that makes JibJab JibJab.”
In 2012, the Spiridellis brothers launched a kids’ entertainment and education project, StoryBots, which let parents and kids create personalized story books and music videos. The Spiridellis brothers later partnered with Netflix to create the Emmy Award winning series “Ask the StoryBots.”
The Spiridellises sold JibJab in early 2019 to San Francisco-based private equity firm Catapult Capital in order to focus on StoryBots.
Hanges joined JibJab as chief operating officer in 2016 and was promoted to CEO by the new owners.
JibJab customers pay for a premium subscription, $24 annually or $2.99 for one month, which enables them to send unlimited cards, as well as other video or GIF messages.
JibJab doesn’t reveal its revenues, but the company says it has over 1.2 million subscribers.
About 30% of its subscribers come from outside of the United States, indicating the potential for international growth in the future, Hanges said. The company is exploring offering greetings for holidays celebrated outside of the U.S.
Differentiating with ‘timely, original content’
One challenge in the e-cards category is low barriers to entry, which means lots of competitors, according to a 2019 report by research firm IBISWorld.
Online sales of greeting cards, including physical and digital cards, was a $713.5 million business in 2019. Hallmark cards and American Greetings, which both have e-card divisions, have the largest market share, at 15% and 6.9% respectively, while hundreds of other competitors divide up the other 77.5%, IBISWorld reports.
Part of JibJab’s success, Hanges said, reflects the fact that it is easy for users to share e-cards and JibJab images they create anywhere and any way they want — via email, on Facebook, by text message or on messaging apps.
JibJab followed up on its successful birthday quarantine theme with a Quarantine-O-Ween video for Halloween, and in September it released a Go Vote! video in partnership with the nonprofit organization Rock the Vote.
The popularity of the quarantine birthday card has shown the benefit of creating timely, original content, Hanges said.
“That’s something we’ve really been pushing since the acquisition – relevancy and recency – and pushing the boundaries on our content lead times to try and get things out there when they’re really relevant,” Hanges said. “And that has really resonated with everybody.”
But the key to hits like the quarantine birthday card and the guiding rule for future topical content will be that nothing succeeds like giving people a chance to star in their own funny video, he said.
“If you make a really quality piece of content that provides joy and allows people to put their face on it and be the stars of it, it becomes automatically interesting and relevant to everyone in their immediate family and their extended network,” Hanges said.
“So, you create these little micro-networks,” he said. “If you grow enough of those, it’s really easy to have these viral hits.”
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Published November 23, 2020