The New Viral Video: Lessons from the Happy Chewbacca

May 30, 2016
Video Production

Candace Payne has redefined viral. Creating a viral video is easier than you think but most brands don’t have the guts to do what she did. This post analyses the elements leading to her sensational success.  If you want more eyes on your videos, here’s what you can do to increase the viral factor in your next production.

Haven’t seen the Happy Chewbacca video? Watch it now.


In the first week since Candace Payne live streamed what is now widely known as the Happy Chewbacca video, she’s had over:

Countless online newspaper articles, blog posts and TV segments have run the video, making Candace Payne an overnight sensation all over the globe. She’s made personal appearances on popular TV shows, has been on the receiving end of a shower of gifts from Kohl’s department store and has been the guest of Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook headquarters. Happy Chewbacca is the biggest Facebook Live video of all time.

So how does a Texan mother of two take the world by storm and achieve more in one week than most marketers achieve in a whole career? Let’s break it down.

What you see is what you get

The video is filmed inside a car. Payne had already strapped herself in with a seatbelt. She has no makeup on. She’s using a phone to make the recording. She’s wearing glasses. She’s so uncool it’s not funny and she doesn’t care one iota. The video is a completely authentic representation of her life. Payne injects a big dose of the human element into every frame of the video.

Where brands fail: When all you present is a glossy representation of your business or the people in it, you create a product no one relates to or trusts.

One take, no edits

Because it was streamed live, Payne had no opportunity to edit for content, appearance or to remove unnecessary stops. She contemplates whether ‘confiscate’ is a word. She struggles to get a box open. She pushes the mask off her face to wipe tears from her eyes.

Where brands fail: Marketers want every little detail to be perfect.  Edit out the imperfections and you take the human element out of your recording. This is true for audio as much as it is for video.

Stand for something

The Happy Chewbacca video is laced with Biblical reference. From the catchphrase “It’s the simple joys,” to confessing she’s ‘still rejoicing in my birthday,” Payne makes no bones about her commitment to the Christian faith.

Where brands fail: When you try to please everyone, you please no one. It might be embedded in political correctness or the misguided belief you can be all things to all people. At any rate, if you can’t take a stand, get used to being bland. And bland does not go viral.

[tweet]When you try to please everyone, you please no one, says @SarahMitchellOz.[/tweet]

Humour abounds

Yes, Payne’s laugh is infectious and watching her crack herself up is highly amusing. But she’s also naturally funny. She chastises the audience for assuming her clothing returns are down to them being too small, she claps her hands in glee, she references her friends “on the internet webs” and she giggles throughout. Her good-natured sassiness about motherhood and her unabashed desire for a child’s toy has you chuckling long before her own hysterics set in.

Where brands fail: Everyone says they want their videos to be funny but most people don’t know how to use humour in marketing. The fun police, aka committee approval processes, can water down the funniest creative into a stuffy corporate cringefest.

The right stuff

There will be no end of video marketers sitting in cars trying to emulate Payne’s success. Get ready for the barrage. But what might seem natural about Payne’s delivery is actually the result of more than a little media training. According to Facebook, she’s studied Musical Theatre at Ouachita Baptist University. She sings, plays guitar and writes music. She’s comfortable in front of the camera because she’s invested time learning how to do it.  Watch her nail the promo to Good Morning America in one take, starting at 2:18.


Where brands fail: Being passionate about a topic doesn’t prevent a wooden delivery. Being famous doesn’t necessarily help, either. How many sports stars have you seen painfully endorsing a product on TV? If you want to be a natural in front of the camera, getting the right training is essential.


There’s no doubt Payne will benefit from the Happy Chewbacca video. (More about that in a minute.) The real winners are the financially troubled Kohl’s department store along with Hasbro and Disney, who market the Star Wars merchandise. Before Payne’s video, the mask was selling on clearance for less than half it’s original retail price. It’s sold out everywhere and is getting up to five times the original price since then. Payne made no bones about where she was shopping, giving a massive shout-out to the retailer and the manufacturer.

Where brands fail: Getting clutchy doesn’t work nearly as well as good old-fashioned brandscaping. Collaborate with product and service providers who are targeting the same audience you are. If all you get are reciprocal sharing benefits on social media, you’re still ahead of the game.

The problem with the Happy Chewbacca video

From a marketing perspective, the Happy Chewbacca has a lot of problems. Payne wasn’t marketing anything. She was creating a bit of light entertainment for a rather miniscule network of friends. She hit the viral jackpot much the way you win the lottery – by chance, by luck and by being in the right place at the right time. There’s no real call to action, at least not one with any commercial value to it. By all accounts, no one is more flabbergasted by the success of the video than Payne.

But maybe she shouldn’t be so surprised. Payne hit on the five elements of storytelling in a way that appeals to the masses. Most brands fail at storytelling. She’s already monetising her success and helping to benefit a charity in the process. I suspect she won’t see the lion’s share of merchandise created on the back of the Happy Chewbacca video. Every night market and dollar store will already be cashing in with merchandise referencing the video.

Because she got so many things right, she’s been able to grow her audience to stratospheric numbers. (Her Facebook follower numbers are growing by about 75,000 per day.) You can bet your eyeteeth she’s being offered massive influencer marketing deals. I can’t imagine how much hounding she’s getting right now. The big boys of entertainment are calling on her and I’m sure her name is on the lips of every marketing conference organiser in the world. Her 15-minutes of fame is showing no signs of abating. I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if she ends up with her own talk show.

The lesson for brands

Get ready to hear about the Happy Chewbacca in every marketing presentation you attend in the next five years. I’m sure Payne’s experience will spawn an untold number of enquiries at video production houses in the next year. If your brand is not prepared to take a few risks and lift the cover on the human side of your business, forget about going viral. If you think you’re up for the challenge, give us a call. We would never promise a viral video but we can get your marketing message to the right audience. Trust us on that.

Before you go:

Listen to the James Lush, Nic Hayes and Sarah Mitchell discuss the Happy Chewbacca phenomena on the Brand Newsroom podcast: