Keebler's Elves Are Building 'Tiny Doors' Across America

Project Covers 12 Cities and Counting

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Leo Burnett is proving that marketing ideas really do grow on trees -- actually under one particular tree in San Francisco, to be exact.

The tree, in the city's Golden Gate Park, began drawing national media attention a few months ago when a mysterious small door was discovered at its base. Leo Burnett's Kellogg team caught the story on the news and immediately made a connection. "Everyone knows that Keebler elves make cookies in the Hollow Tree," recalled Mike Doyle, a VP-Creative Director at the agency. "If there was ever a project that we should be doing something around, it seemed like this would be the one."

Thus was born the "Tiny Doors Project," in which Kellogg's Keebler brand commissions artists to build tiny doors at the base of trees across the country.

This 'Tiny Door' is in Pittsburgh
This 'Tiny Door' is in Pittsburgh

The project -- which is spearheaded by Leo Burnett and experiential marketing agency City Eventions – is purposely low-profile. There isn't any branding on the doors, except for a hashtag (#tinydoors). Leo Burnett made a TV spot (below), but it does not show any Keebler cookies and the brand name is only briefly shown at the end of the ad. Keebler's lead elf, Ernie, does not appear in the ad, although his voice does.

The campaign is meant to bring "the idea of elfin lore into the real world," Mr. Doyle said. "Although we would love people to go out and buy Keebler cookies," that is not the goal of the project, he said. Rather, it is aimed at selling the Keebler brand "and what we stand for, which is elfin magic," he added.

The hub for the campaign is a Tumblr page which includes a map displaying the locations of the doors, as well as some pictures, like one door at the base of a huge tree in Cincinnati's Eden Park. About 40 doors have been erected in a dozen cities so far, including Orlando, Detroit, Philadelphia and Kansas City.

Mr. Doyle said the project targets parks, and organizers get permission for each door. Also, the doors are nailed to the ground, not the trees themselves. Project coordinators work with arborists to ensure the trees aren't harmed, Mr. Doyle said.

This was a lesson learned from the original San Francisco tiny door, which was removed by city's Recreation and Park Department because of rules prohibiting fixtures to trees, according to local media reports. After much speculation – including a story on ABC's "Good Morning America" -- the San Francisco Chronicle revealed the creators of the original door as Tony Powell and his son Rio. Mr. Powell, who lives on a sailboat and works at a company that makes wood sealant for boats according to the Chronicle, told the newspaper that "I just thought maybe someone might come along now and then and say, 'Well, cool -- a little door.' That's all."

Leo Burnett approached Mr. Powell early on about being part of the Keebler project. He politely declined, saying "my kid doesn't watch TV and my kid doesn't eat cookies," Mr. Doyle recalled. The agency let him know it was moving forward with the project, Mr. Doyle said, and "he was fine with it."

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