As the Covid-19 pandemic escalated in March 2020, millions of people found themselves turning to a new platform for the first time: Zoom. With that mass transition to work-from-home life, many people had to face the fact that their real-life meeting backgrounds were pretty lackluster. A dark bedroom, a half-decorated office, a messy kitchen or just a boring blank wall – there were plenty of reasons not to want your colleagues to see inside your home. At the time, Zoom’s built-in “virtual background” offerings were unrealistic (like a solar system or a palm tree) and not necessarily personable, stylish or characteristic of work settings.
At West Elm, we recognized our everyday content, inspiration and eye for design could help millions solve this problem by quickly leveraging our beautiful imagery to highlight 14 West Elm “Approved” Virtual Backgrounds using our original, modern and swoon-worthy interiors photography. You can see the blog post here. The best part is...all images were captured in real-life living rooms, bedrooms, offices and more furnished with modern West Elm furniture and accessories from our lifestyle shoots with partners and creators around the globe! The goal was to solve a new problem that people around the world were facing by providing a free and easy-to-understand tool (virtual background downloads), while serving up West Elm’s signature style, aesthetic and content to new audiences in a unique, unprecedented way.
In order to seize this opportunity as quickly as possible, we published a blog post on March 18, 2020, with 14 downloadable virtual backgrounds (“Download: These Video Conference Backgrounds Will Let You Dial-In from Your Dream Home”). We knew that by sharing our photography in this way, we’d be able to solve a timely, universal problem with the potential to generate an immeasurable amount of organic brand awareness. When someone joins a company-wide Zoom meeting with a West Elm virtual background, that’s incredibly valuable exposure easily spread by word of mouth. In the months following the blog post and as the pandemic progressed, dozens of brands have followed suit with their own version of virtual backgrounds. To our knowledge, West Elm was one of the very first to do so in a truly inspiring, approachable and original manner - particularly in the home retail space.
The photos we chose to turn into Zoom backgrounds are from photoshoots of real-life homes, so they look incredibly realistic. They look real enough that you might be able to fool your boss into thinking you redecorated, but beyond that, it’s a light-hearted conversation starter to show people what you *wish* your dream home looked like. The fact that these Zoom backgrounds feature clean, modern, aspirational designs also makes them appropriate for all settings, from a virtual happy hour to a serious work presentation.
In the blog post, you can click on links in to shop all the furniture you see in the photo and see a full tour of the home published on West Elm’s blog, Front + Main.
Once we published the blog post, we promoted the backgrounds through owned marketing channels including social media, website and email. We began sharing the concept with media contacts to secure earned press coverage and further broaden the content’s reach with 917 million total earned media impressions.
After the success of the first batch of Zoom backgrounds, we published updated Zoom background roundups for happy hours, Halloween parties, Christmas gatherings and more.
As one of the first brands to release Zoom backgrounds in an intentional and consumer-focused way, we earned viral press coverage in publications including the New York Post, Apartment Therapy, Fast Company, Domino, marketing trade recognition such as Ad Age and a feature segment on the Today Show. Our earned media generated an astounding 917 million consumer impressions.
The campaign saw an impressive organic response and was praised by customers, marketing commentators and everyday Zoom users for its usefulness in a challenging time. Highlights from Twitter included:
“Okay @westelm with this genius marketing campaign to make custom @zoom_us backgrounds from dream homes - love seeing how fast companies can pivot their marketing during challenging times” - @aliwittic
“Furniture designer West Elm made virtual backgrounds for zoom - best piece of digital marketing I've seen since this crisis started!” - @prof_rooks
“Heard in my Zoom office meeting today, "ooh, look at Sonja's house!" Nope, that's my West Elm background. Thanks @westelm for making me look so fancy!” - @VAFamilyLawyer
“Rather not share your messy living room over Zoom while working remotely? West Elm to the rescue- they've created some virtual backgrounds to show off instead!” - @Ms_LibraryBee
“For those who are using #Zoom and other conferencing systems (so pretty much all of us), @westelm is offering 'conference backgrounds' to use... and they are darn stylish, like the one below. Honestly, who comes up with this type of stuff is so clever.” - @CrowleyArklie
The original post was the most viewed page of all time on West Elm’s Front + Main blog and received 4,770% more traffic than the average blog posts. It also received 8x more pageviews than the #2 most trafficked post of 2020.