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The profound business implications of that viral Chewbacca mask video

Minyoung Park

You’ve probably seen the video.

A Texas mom dons a Chewbacca mask and makes it growl with Wookiee sounds as she laughs hysterically alone inside a car. As she exclaims in the video, which she posted publicly on Facebook, “I’m such a happy Chewbacca!” You almost certainly laughed, and so did the rest of the 154 million people who watched it. It quickly became the most viewed Facebook video ever.

Now the woman, Candace Payne, is laughing all the way to the bank. And it isn’t just her who has profited from the video’s viral success.

Payne has seen stunning financial benefit from the video—and so has Kohl’s. It only took two mentions of Kohl’s (KSS), where she purchased the mask, to help the company jump to become the No. 1 retail app in the iOS App Store, according to analyst Mary Meeker’s latest annual Internet trend report. Demand for the mask “has risen dramatically,” Meeker writes. The whole incident further cements Facebook’s recent influence on retail.

The Chewbacca mask video was much more than a viral video. (Image: Kleiner Perkins)

Big brick-and-mortar retailers like Macy’s (M), JC Penney (JCP), and Gap (GPS) have struggled with declining revenues, profits, and stock prices. Kohl’s reported a decline of 3.9% in comparable store sales in its first-quarter report. But the Chewbacca mask was like a spontaneous gift of free marketing.

In case you’re wondering, Kohl’s says it did not stage the video or pay Payne beforehand.

“Kohl's did not have a prior relationship with Candace and was not involved in creating the video,” says spokesperson Maggie Lund, “but we were delighted with the level of social engagement that was sparked from Candace's genuine spirit and authenticity.”

The mask is still sold out at Kohl’s and at other major retailers such as Target, Walmart and Toys R Us. In the aftermath of the video, it’s also become a rare item that re-sellers are fetching inflated prices for online. The original price of the mask is around $30. It’s now selling for more than double that on eBay, where prices range from $50 to $500. On Amazon, a small number of re-sellers are seeking $45 to $100.

Kohl’s also showered Candace Payne with Star Wars-themed gifts. That meant Chewbacca masks for her whole family, Kohl's gift cards and other Star Wars goodies. The company surprised her at home with these gifts and then, naturally, posted its own semi-viral video.

Kohl’s says the video of the surprise has 33 million views. “The quick traction this content has received is incredible,” says Lund, “and it’s some of the top engagement Kohl's has ever seen.”

Candace Payne has said that she is “grateful” for the attention and fan response to her video. But Kohl’s, which has garnered buzz and a sales boost, should be the one thanking her.

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Minyoung Park is a reporting intern at Yahoo Finance.

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