What Brands Should Be Learning From Chewbacca Mom

By now, everyone’s seen it — or at least heard of it. Texas mom Candace Payne shopped for a Chewbacca mask at Kohl’s, and streamed herself on Facebook Live trying it on. Her giddy, joyful reaction struck a chord even with people who had no idea who she was, and the video has been viewed about 150 million times — making it the most viewed video in Facebook history.

Payne, not previously an internet celebrity or influencer of note, has in the days since received thousands of dollars in merchandise and gift cards from Kohl’s, got to visit Facebook headquarters, and has even done an appearance on James Corden’s “Late Late Show,” driving Corden and director J.J. Abrams to work.

The sudden internet popularity of Payne, by all accounts just your “average mom,” and the marketing manna from heaven reaped by Kohl’s , should result in hundreds of copycat would-be digital influencers uploading their own Live videos of their shopping experiences and manufacturing their own giddiness over their product of choice in hopes of attracting brand attention. It will lead to a dozen social media and digital guru pundits writing posts about how Chewbacca Mom’s video was Facebook Live’s  moment of “arrival, a signal like SXSW 2007 was for Twitter that the platform is about to reach critical mass and mass adoption. (Prepare for the wave of guru posts proclaiming that brands not already on Facebook Live are already behind.)

It will also likely drive brands from all over to try to replicate the video’s success, showing off just how happy their products make the average user, and desperately trying to achieve the kind of “viral” success that marketers dream about.

If that happens, then everyone involved would have totally missed the point, and will get it wrong.

It wasn’t the Chewbacca mask that made this video successful. It wasn’t even about Payne’s obvious glee at the toy. What made this video work and strike such a chord with so many people boils down to two things:

  1. It was spontaneous and genuine. There was nothing promotional, nothing slick, nothing planned about it. It was obviously just capturing a moment in time, a real one at that — one marketers hadn’t assembled or contrived.
  2. It connected with people on an emotional level. It wasn’t about product, or the personality/notoriety of the spokesperson. It was just a human being feeling a relatable emotion.

People gravitate to stories they can relate to, feel emotion with, see themselves in. This is why, when it’s done well, storytelling works as a branding concept. When a brand is smart enough — and confident enough — to portray itself not as the hero of a story but as the sidekick to the true hero (the viewer or reader), the viewer relates and can feel along. When we can see or feel along with the story, we not only pay attention; we remember.

And Candace Payne’s unadulterated joy was something people could feel along with — after all, as the Washington Post pointed out, laughter is contagious. Even if they didn’t share her Star Wars “geekdom,” let’s face it: we’re all geeks about something (my personal geek-outs are baseball, The Prisoner, and all things Walt Disney World). We could all relate to being that happy about something small that just made our day because it tapped our giddy place.

That’s why “Chewbacca Mom” struck a chord and went “viral” — because it worked on that emotional level.  Brand marketers shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that it was about a particular product, or about having an “average” person show off the product, or even that its success was about the breakthrough power of Facebook Live. The moment wasn’t scripted, which means it’s pretty much by nature not replicable. Trying to contrive or revisit it wouldn’t have nearly the effect.

Instead of looking at what was done or what the subject of the content was, or trying to find their own “every day hero” to be the next viral sensation, brands should be looking at why Chewbacca Mom worked — be looking for ways to draw viewers and readers emotionally to them, and be thinking about how to make their digital content more genuine and less contrived. That is the lesson we should all be learning from Chewbacca Mom.


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