#HappyChewbacca: Kohl’s feels the force of viral marketing

Last month’s ‘Happy Chewbacca’ viral showed the power (and unpredictability) of social media. Georgina Parsons, Head of Communications UK Visibrain looks at how the department store Kohl’s made smart use of its sudden fame, and what marketers can learn from this great disturbance in the Force…

Who knew that on the 24th May, the way we looked at Star Wars merchandise would change forever. That morning, Texas mother Candace Payne unexpectedly shot to stardom after a video she posted on Facebook Live went viral. Her Chewbacca mask unboxing video, complete with hysterical laughter, was massively shared on social media and in the press.

Following a shopping trip to Kohl’s, the Star Wars unboxing video was streamed live over Facebook and immediately took the internet by storm with over 140 million views and half a million tweets.

Watching its brand name spike on Twitter, Kohl’s felt the presence of a marketing opportunity that was too good to miss. The brand responded quickly, showering Candace and her family with gifts and filming her surprise for a follow up YouTube campaign. The resulting video, titled “The happiest Chewbacca”, was shared 49,647 times over the weekend on Twitter, and over 500,000 times on Facebook, giving Kohl’s the perfect catalyst to build its reputation as a customer centric feel-good brand.

The below graph, provided by Visibrain, shows the vast increase in mentions of Kohl’s on Twitter during this viral phenomenon.

visibrain chewie

Kohl’s handling of Candace’s new found fame resulted in a lot of positive attention online. The brand was mentioned 49,338 times that weekend, a significant increase compared to the company’s typical social presence. As this social buzz reached its peak on Twitter, Kohl’s PR stunt began to spill over into the mainstream media, securing the retailer coverage on NBC, Mashable, and USA

Today. Now, several weeks later, the American department store is still successfully riding off the trend, cementing its position in the battle for best store in the galaxy.

From a purely marketing perspective, the tale of #HappyChewbacca is a great example of the power of social media to not only boost a brand’s image but to encourage direct product sales as well.
In the short time since the video went viral, Khols, Walmart and ToysRUs have all sold out of the mask. On Amazon and eBay, the product is even being sold on by former customers for as much as $215!

Through a clear reactive marketing strategy and the company’s humbling response, Kohl’s successfully turned Candace’s journey into public relations gold. When it comes to a digital marketing success story, the force is strong with this one.

By Georgina Parsons
Head of Communications UK


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