Lessons from Chewbacca Mask Lady: Why She Got Famous and What We Can Learn from It

Let’s talk about Candace Payne. Think you don’t know her? Think again. All of America (and even beyond our borders) affectionately knows her as Chewbacca Mask Lady–an everyday mom from Texas who unintentionally launched herself into the media spotlight within a matter of minutes.

And three weeks later, her fame continues to grow.

We’ve all heard the term “15 minutes of fame.” And this was not that. This lady has flat-out owned the internet–and is sneaking her way into the TV and retail space–for a few weeks now, all thanks to a single, simple video.

You’ve since seen videos of her with Kohl’s, James Corden, and JJ Abrams. You’ve seen her on Good Morning America and heard her interviews with BBC, NPR, and numerous others. Mark Zuckerberg even invited her to Facebook’s headquarters in CA.

Within a week of the event, her video was the most watched Facebook Live video of all time, hitting 141 million views–and still growing. Meanwhile, other videos–for example, a video with Kohl’s (who came delivering Star Wars merchandise and gift cards) and another with James Corden–are seeing unprecedented virality.

The hashtag #chewbaccahappy hit Twitter hard, Chewbacca masks sold out everywhere, and the Payne family even received big-money college scholarship offers.

If you want four minutes of pure glee, here’s the video again. (I’ve watched it over and over!)

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Talk about unexpected virality.

Candace experienced what most brands and marketers would pay millions for. Billions, even.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why people kept watching and sharing this video like crazy. The lessons buried in it can surely help you (and me!) be a better marketer.

Here are some marketing takeaways from the Chewbacca Mask Lady:

Virality cannot be manufactured. Clients ask me all the time about how to create a viral video. “How do I just, you know, make it go viral?” (If I knew, I’d be the richest man alive.) The nature of the internet, though, makes that a question that simply cannot be answered. There are firms out there that study what makes these videos go crazy and try to re-engineer it. More times than not, they fail miserably. I know a handful of people who have had videos go viral and none of them were expected; not a single one had a strategy to make them that way. It just happened.

People are drawn to authenticity. Candace was just being herself. She simply sat in her car and made the video to document that this gift was for her. The beauty of authenticity is that it builds empathy. People watch and say, “Me too!” or, “I could totally see myself doing that,” or, “Sometimes I buy ‘kid’ things for myself too, that’s awesome.” Don’t try to be someone you’re not. The element of raw humanity–the quirkiness of that–wins. I always tell authors in the middle of marketing campaigns to be themselves and let their unique idiosyncrasies shine through. We like to know someone, to see a real person, rather than an “I have it all together” actor.

We all want to laugh. It’s no coincidence that so many of the internet’s hottest videos are marked by humor. People have a genuine desire to laugh, and that reaction is so often contagious. Candace’s pure joy in her own goofiness means that a viewer simply can’t watch it without at least cracking a smile. Her glee was pure and genuine. When the world feels so heavy around us sometimes, the joy is utterly appealing. In a news cycle marked by negative, we crave a light-hearted story. As a marketer, look for opportunities to use humor. Manufactured funny falls flat, but real funny wins.

The “after” matters. Virality online, if it’s big enough, often means fame offline. And that prolonged fame can be hard for some people to handle, especially when it’s unexpected. Candace has experienced the prolonged attention and handled the spotlight with grace. She’s been humble and real, continuing to laugh at herself and play into the humor of the event. Who she is on the video is consistent with who she is on Good Morning America, for example, and so the public continues to love her. It’s easy to think that once we market something and push it into cyberspace, the game is over. But that’s not true; the “after” counts.

It hits on a beloved pop culture item. Star Wars isn’t the answer to all our problems, but it’s an epic story that is known and loved across generations, races, and socioeconomic lines. And within the Star Wars character lineup, Chewbacca is a particularly appealing figure, with his goofy and caring nature, his funny sounds, and his furry appearance. Without even meaning to, Candace hit upon an extremely well-known Hollywood character–one who many movie watchers have an especially soft spot for.

My takeaway is to continually be looking for ways to tie your product into pop culture. When appropriate, link your brand to what’s hot on the internet. This is certainly an art, but it tends to succeed when done subtly and creatively.

If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a million times: you cannot be a good marketer without having your finger on the pulse of the industry and the pulse of pop culture.

You cannot be a good marketer without having your finger on the pulse of the industry. Click To Tweet

If you want to get a brand in front of people, you have to know what’s currently dominating their screens–what you have to replace in order to cut through the clutter. Keep a strategic eye on the trends of the interwebs. There’s often an opportunity waiting.



  • One of the best videos online ever. I think one of the fun things about a real viral video is that it’s unexpected. That adds to the story. Right time. Right place. Right person. Right personality. And Candace def had the right personality. Lol.

  • Smart Takeaways!

    I did see Candace had been creating videos on her Facebook for awhile — all looked unstaged and for her friends — confirmation of that authenticity you pointed out.

    As a marketer, I’ve even grown weary of being ‘marketed to,’ especially online.
    Candace is refreshing in many ways!

    • And Kohl’s rocked the ‘after story’ as well!