business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

When Candace Payne recently donned a Chewbacca mask in a suburban Dallas parking lot, she let loose a laugh heard around the world.

Her resulting viral video earned her fame and the name “Chewbacca mom” and proved the power of authenticity and social media. For Kohl’s, Facebook and the makers of Star Wars merchandise, it was a marketing moment that dreams are made of.

To recap for those who may possibly have missed the video, the mother of two and enthusiastic Star Wars fan went into her local Kohl’s for a pair of yoga pants and wandered over to the toy aisle. She bumped into a Chewbacca mask, heard it growl and thought, “I need to have this for myself” as a birthday gift.

She tried the $30 electronic mask on in her car, and captured her spontaneous, hysterical laughter in a selfie-video. She posted it to Facebook Live, where it has been seen by 153 million people and counting, shattering the previous record of 10 million views on the relatively new Facebook Live platform.

Kohl’s, which has been hoping its new social media efforts can reverse sluggish sales, mobilized within 24 hours to capitalize on Candace’s contagious laugh, delivering more Chewbacca masks, Star Wars merchandise and $2,500 in gift cards to her home. The retailer posted that video on its Facebook page, yielding a whopping 33 million views with the hashtag #AllTheGoodStuff, which is part of its loyalty program marketing campaign.

Consumers responded enthusiastically, and Amobee Brand Intelligence reported digital engagement surrounding Kohl’s spiked 101% over that weekend compared to the previous week.

Candace and her mask hit the TV circuit, appearing on news shows, with Ellen DeGeneres and James Corden, and with the actor who played Chewbacca, Peter Mayhew, and Star Wars director J.J. Abrams. The resulting videos on YouTube have racked up tens of millions of views and mentions for Kohl’s, which sold out of the masks.

The video had a “halo effect” with demand for the masks for Amazon, Walmart and Toys R Us, and selling for as much as $200 on eBay.

The video has been an unexpected boon for Facebook, which opened up its live streaming features to regular folks like Candace earlier this year. Previously, only celebrities and verified pages could post live videos. Ironically, the video from a supremely likable, 37-year-old stay-at-home mom eclipsed the celeb efforts.

I think there are two takeaways from this story. The first is the importance of authenticity – Candace Payne’s delightful joy in the product was the real deal, better than any scripted endorsement. Millions around the world responded because her laughter was genuine, and contagious. Authenticity matters whether you are selling Star Wars masks or virtually any consumer product.

The second business lesson is the importance of being nimble in today’s competitive retail environment. Yoda tells us, "Always in motion is the future," and that certainly is the truth in modern retailing. Complacency never is rewarded.

I had read that Kohl’s, a Midwest-based retailer with a middle-of-the-road image, was stepping up its social media efforts. I was surprised and impressed with its immediate, smart response to its Chewbacca mom moment. Candace’s birthday gift card paid dividends worth millions in free advertising and good will.

To coin a phrase, they used the Force. And at least for this episode, the Force was strong in them.

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