For pretty much any brand, having a big-name celebrity endorse its product is a dream come true. And if they’re very lucky, it’ll happen more than once.
That’s the case for Licia Young, who has been running her own jewelry business since 1990, when she was 14 years old. While pieces from LiciaYoung Studios are typically characterized by gemstones and beautiful metal, one collection in particular has gotten some repeated major attention: the TP collection, with hand-seed-beaded earrings and necklaces designed to look like tiny rolls of toilet paper.
Most recently, the earrings were endorsed by Britney Spears, who posted a photo of them on Instagram with the caption “Pearl baby toilet paper 😳🧻 !!! I think I’ve upgraded 😂”
It all came as a big surprise to Licia.“I noticed a few transactions come through one after the other and looked around,” she says. Some friends told her it was actually a Britney boost.
This isn’t the first time Licia’s earrings have gone viral. Nearly a decade ago, Reader’s Digest asked to run a photo of the earrings and from there they were featured on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. That, says Licia, led to “massive amounts of sales.”“There wasn’t any mention of a name, but people found me anyway, because the product was uniquely searchable,” she says.
Then, in 2017, actress Jameela Jamil wore them to the American Film Institute awards rehearsal dinner, then again to visit Conan O’Brien.
“I’ve learned she uses her platform as a way to empower women and be an activist for human rights,” says Licia. “It makes me happy to be surrounded by strong individuals who strive to make the world a better place and show others they can too.”
One of Licia’s biggest years would come in 2020. (You can probably guess why.) The earrings went viral on Facebook and Instagram, thanks to the pandemic-induced toilet paper shortage.
“I earned my regular annual business income within a day. It went so viral that I hired 12 friends and taught them how to weave beads for me,” she says.
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That exposure led to Poo-Pourri, a bathroom spray brand, to work with her for a joint giveaway on Instagram. Plus, a Fox News anchor even wore the earrings on air.
Also in 2020, Licia’s earrings were shared by YouTube creator Brandon Farris. Licia and Brandon continued a relationship, and Licia used glitter he once featured in a YouTube video, to make a jewelry collection called Glitter4Good.
Having gone viral many times, you’d think Licia might have a playbook for how to handle it. But she says it’s not that simple. In the case of Britney, it brought attention but not her biggest bump in sales.
“A static Instagram post generates a lot of likes and many comments, but when it comes to actually convincing people to purchase, it’s not as easy,” says Licia. “Her endorsement generated about 20 transactions across my websites.”
Going viral is very exciting, but viral moments are fleeting. When asked how to capitalize on that buzz for the long term, Licia says that’s very difficult.
“Virality is temporary. It can give a boost for a while and a few of the people will become interested enough to subscribe to a newsletter, but over the last 33 years, I have found that the best way to grow is slowly, for a lasting effect,” she says.
For Licia, that means working hard on her own marketing and social media and forming long-lasting partnerships, like the one she has with Brandon Farris.
However, each viral moment has meant an organic marketing boost and a fresh influx of potential customers to cultivate. Viral fame may be unpredictable, but for small businesses it can be a needed reminder of the fans their products may have far and wide.