The Chewbacca Mom Viral Phenomenon

July 2, 2016 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

Laughter is contagious. That’s the only predictable part of Chewbacca Mom’s viral video hit with 154 million views and counting—more than the Super Bowl’s 111 million viewers. Because here’s the thing: no one can predict which digital content will go viral. There’s no secret. There’s no algorithm. There’s no digital marketing mastermind who has the answer.

Watch the video. It’ll make you smile or your money back. 

The best anyone can tell is that viral content is some lightening-strike combination of timing + relatable content + good juju. But here’s the good news: you don’t need a big budget and multi-faceted campaign to increase your odds of shareable web content. That means that challenger brands are in the game.

Here’s what challenger brands can learn from Chewbacca Mom and other viral content.

  • Don’t make viral your goal. As explained above, that’s way too lofty—and likely impossible – a goal. Instead focus on creating content your target audience can appreciate, which will vary based on who they are, their life stage, and other demographic and psychographic factors. Use your previous metrics as a benchmark for setting your goals.

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  • Know the content your competitors are creating. Not because you want to copy it, but because you want to stand apart from it.
  • Start with sincerity. What’s real and true? Consider stories and ideas so authentic they could never be considered trite. You’ll know you’re on the wrong track if your brand is overtly front and center. The Chewbacca Mom was a third-party promoting the product, and she wasn’t paid. If a brand tried to replicate the video, it would reek of insincerity and lack of originality. And it wouldn’t generate 154 million views.
  • Make it emotional. Funny, heartwarming, happy or weird—the content should be anything other than, meh. If it doesn’t give your customer the feels, then it just won’t go anywhere. One analysis of 430 billion video views and 100,000 consumer data points found that psychological response, how it makes you feel, is one of the two most powerful drivers for viral content.
  • Motivate a share. The same study found that the other driver for viral content is social motivation – why they want to share. The more the content makes viewers feel, the more likely they are to share it. The book Contagious cites data indicating that “awe-inspiring” articles are 30 percent more likely to be shared. Take this giant alligator video, for example. While sadness has the opposite effect, resulting in a 16 percent decrease in shareability.
  • Take care of your customers. The thousands of people who come into contact with your brand everyday are as likely as anyone else to create viral content. Hello, Chewbacca Mom. Do everything you can to make sure their experience is a positive one. Not like this guy.
  • Monitor your social media. If someone is not actively monitoring your social accounts with chain of command, approval power, and alert methods in place, you could miss your window.
  • Be ready to act. Kohl’s was quick to insert its brand into the story by presenting the Chewbacca mom with Star Wars goodies and a $2,500 gift card. The Chewbacca Mom video posted on May 19, and Kohl’s posted its gift presentation video on May 21, a Saturday. That’s overtime well spent, as the Kohl’s video has earned the brand 33 million+ views. Even Disney World got in on the action, and a university received publicity for offering a full tuition scholarships for the entire family. No word on how the students feel about that.
    Viral videos are excellent case studies in learning about all the ways and types of content is shared, but keep in mind that good content is effective even if it doesn’t reach the masses. Don’t consider your content a failure just because it doesn’t reach Chewbacca Mom-level superstardom.
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Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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