The use of humor to heal has been around since the 1300s when Henri de Mondeville, a professor of surgery, propagated post-operative therapy with humor. Since then, doctors and those in the medical field have found that bringing happiness and laughter to a situation or into one’s life has significant health benefits, including mood elevation and lowering blood pressure.
And in 2020, billions of people across the world likely realized that they too could benefit from a little levity as the reality of the pandemic meant instant disruption to how we worked, played, celebrated, visited with friends and family, enjoyed sports, traveled, and even shopped.
I was curious about the ways that people found happiness in light of everything last year, and one brand that came to mind was the digital e-greeting card and social expression brand who has been bringing joy into our homes, our schools, our offices, and our daily lives since 1999. To discuss the power of laughter and how people used e-cards to communicate with those they couldn’t physically connect with over the past year, I asked JibJab’s CEO Paul Hanges to join me for a discussion.
Gary Drenik: Thank you so much for your time. I’m looking forward to learning more about JibJab and how e-greeting cards can and have played a role in our lives over the past year. But first, can you tell us a little bit about JibJab and your role there?
Paul Hayes: JibJab was founded by two brothers, Gregg, and Evan Spiridellis, in a Brooklyn garage in 1999 after they first witnessed the power of animated video. However, the brand really took off after the creation and release of the 2004 political satire hit, This Land.
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I joined JibJab in 2016 as its chief operating officer, where I was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the studio, in addition to the direction and performance of the legal, accounting, paid media acquisition, and customer service teams. And in January 2019, I was named CEO when the founders decided to focus on another one of their ventures that would become Netflix’s StoryBots, and sell the company to a private equity firm, Catapult Capital.
It’s been a fascinating and fulfilling journey leading JibJab, especially taking over from two beloved founders. I’ve worked really hard to carve my own path that allows for learning, growing, and succeeding, while also keeping a focus on what has made JibJab so great for all these years.
Once that “transition period” was over in 2019, I immediately began working with our incredible team to establish a product roadmap that would incorporate our core mission to “make billions of people happy,” and that is what I focus on every day.
Drenik: Trying to “make billions of people happy” must have been extremely difficult during the height of the pandemic in 2020. What did JibJab do to try to further that mission, when happiness was generally hard to find?
Hangers: Happiness and 2020 didn’t really go together very well, right? Aside from our own observations, the statistics bear that out. Prosper Insights & Analytics Happiness Index even found that 66 percent of those surveyed in June 2020 said they were “happy” with their “friend life,” which is the lowest reported in that category since at least 2017; and in August of 2020, that dropped even further to 64 percent. Those numbers are even lower for Generation Z (52%) and Millennials (57%).
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But when the official quarantine started in April 2020, our team refused to let physical distance affect our mission to drive happiness. We moved quickly to create and release uplifting, relevant, “stay-at-home focused” digital content, including Happy (Quarantine) Birthday, Quarantine Memories and a special Thank You for greeting for people to send to health care and other essential workers.
And once those hit the site, we noticed a huge increase in the number of people gravitating toward that Covid-19 related content. In fact, our Quarantine Birthday greeting has now become our top-performing birthday greeting of all time, and the number of total “makes” for Thank You-related digital content increased 328 percent over 2019.
When we look at 2020 through the lens of the digital content and e-cards we sent each other, some interesting trends emerge. For example, several consumer holidays fell near the beginning of the shut-in, so we noticed significant increases in Graduation, Easter, and Mother’s Day categories over 2019; Graduation alone increased 223 percent. And, because physical affection and in-person visits were in short supply and we couldn’t visit loved ones when they weren’t feeling well, we also noticed large increases in both the Cheer Up and Get-Well categories. On the other side of that, both Wedding and New Baby categories actually saw decreases, which also makes sense.
We don’t just produce happy content; we spend months thinking about the message we want to convey as well as what we want the creator and user experience to be. This involves several meetings about music, animation ideas, themes, voices, and more.
And when people were looking for laughter and smiles in 2020, I am proud to be able to look back and acknowledge the role we played, even if it’s a small one, in bringing people together, while they had to stay apart.
Drenik: Why do you think that JibJab has such staying power, especially as we’ve seen the rise and fall of so many other brands and social networks since 1999?
Hangers: Through dot coms, booms and busts, economic recessions and growth periods, a private equity sale and now a global pandemic, JibJab has been through it all, and we have even lovingly adopted the moniker “the original dot com cockroach” because of this.
Today JibJab has a thriving and passionate subscriber base and our award-winning content still resonates with people of all ages. In fact, JibJab just celebrated its 21st birthday, and we are all really looking forward to spreading our wings a little more in 2021 and the years to come.
Our personalized videos and digital content pieces were the first of their kind in 2007, and that nostalgia has not only helped carry our brand forward, it has also driven a lot of our content decisions. Our catalog includes music that crosses generations and genres, like “You’re The One That I Want” from the hit Broadway musical and movie Grease, “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves, “U Can’t Touch This” by M.C. Hammer and even “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X ft. Billy Ray Cyrus.
At the end of the day, good content is about making connections. We choose to do that through humor because making other people happy is something that will always reflect positively on us. It’s rare for a smile or a laugh to define the currency of a company, but I think that’s just one more thing that makes JibJab unique, and how we’re able to handle weather change. Joy should always have relevance in people’s lives.