How Wal-Mart capitalized on the 'yodeling boy' craze without stepping on any cowboy boots

Before Mason Ramsey played Coachella, he was known for his performances at a local Wal-Mart.

BENTONVILLE, AR: When a video of 10-year-old Mason Ramsey yodeling in a Wal-Mart went viral in late March, the chain did not immediately jump at the chance to respond.

After all, customers and employees randomly bursting into song Wal-Mart is not an unusual occurrence, explained Erica Jones, the retailer’s senior manager of corporate communications.

"This is definitely not the first time we have seen a video of people singing in our stores," said Jones. "It is not uncommon for people to put on a little show in the aisles of our stores."

The original tweet with the video, by @dumbassvegan, has been retweeted more than 56,000 times, and liked more than 190,000 times. The video, posted on Twitter on March 24, shows Ramsey wearing a red bow tie and tapping his foot while he performs "Lovesick Blues" at a store in Harrisburg, Illinois.

Jones said she noticed the video on her social media feed, but didn’t realize how big it was getting on the Internet.

"It wasn’t until I started to see the news coverage that I realized, ‘OK, this kid has taken off,’" she said. In early April, outlets including Time, HuffPost, People, Mashable, and NPR reported on the young yodeler, some dubbing him "Yodeling Wal-Mart Boy." U.K outlets such as NME have also covered Ramsey’s Wal-Mart performance.

Wal-Mart’s comms team set out to find out more about Ramsey. Talking with his family and the store he was filmed in, Jones said she found out Ramsey was known in the Harrisburg community because he had performed in that store before.

Wal-Mart decided to throw a concert with Ramsey as the headliner at the store that started it all in Harrisburg on April 11. For fans who could not attend in the flesh, the retailer livestreamed the show on its Facebook and Twitter pages.

"We wanted to take [Ramsey’s] talents as a singer and performer and amplify them by providing him with a literal stage to perform for his newfound fans, since he had become a national sensation," said Jones. "We were excited about being able to celebrate him in his hometown where he was discovered and be able to livestream that and share that with his new audience."

Wal-Mart used it social channels to announce and promote the concert and conducted celebrity engagement via Twitter.

"When we were planning the concert, we were looking to find an opening act," said Jones. "We ended up inviting DJ Suede and the Remix Squad, who did the original remix of his video that kicked off a lot of the social coverage we saw and people doing the dancing challenges. We had him come out and be the opening act for [Ramsey]."

Wal-Mart also pitched the story about the concert to national and local media outlets and used Ramsey himself to promote the show, including him in videos in the lead up to the event.

"We had the benefit of the story going viral to begin with, so our comms strategy was to [reach out to] outlets that had already covered him to let them know this is the next step in [Ramsey’s] journey and to make sure the local media in his hometown were able to participate in it as well," said Jones.

Ramsey appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show on April 10. Wal-Mart did not help set up that booking, but got involved after finding out he would appear on the show by gifting him a check for $15,000 to go toward his college fund. DeGeneres also gave him an invitation to perform at the Grand Ole Opry on April 14.

"We were in touch with Ellen given the fact we were having the concert [the following day]," said Jones. "That was an organic opportunity that happened on its own that we were able to participate in as well. That helped us amplify our concert."

On the show, when DeGeneres asked why he chose to perform at Walmart, Ramsey said, "Because that's the only store we've got."

During the Wal-Mart concert, the retailer also created a Snapchat filter to celebrate Ramsey’s performance.

One video Wal-Mart posted of the concert it hosted was viewed 790,000 times, retweeted 4,000 times and liked 20,000 times.

Ramsey has since performed at Coachella 2018 and has been invited to play at The Stagecoach Festival in California this weekend. Wal-Mart has had no involvement with those bookings.

Jones said media outlets continue to reach out to Wal-Mart about Ramsey, but noted that the company has no further plans with the young star.

"For us, it was about having this one moment to celebrate a story and amazing customers," said Jones. We were excited about the world being able to see another side of Wal-Mart and the people who shop there."

Even though Ramsey's performance has inspired a "Yodeling Kid Challenge" in Wal-Marts throughout the country, Jones said the retailer hasn’t yet had to scold customers to stop yodeling in stores.

"Anytime something like this becomes a big hit, people are going to want to replicate or imitate it and we love our customers and the talent that they showcase," said Jones. "We are not encouraging or discouraging people from singing in our stores."

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