business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

Forget blue-and-black versus white-and-gold. When asked the true color of the divisive dress that “broke the internet,” the British retailer behind the viral sensation answered “green.”

He was joking, of course, but not far off the mark citing the color of money.

The spirited debate about the blue-and-black dress that many people (including the majority of Facebook users, Jimmy Fallon, Julianne Moore and yours truly) saw as white-and-gold has finally abated.

But the unexpected boost in revenue and hype for the dress manufacturer Roman Originals, and for the content distributor BuzzFeed and microblogging site Tumblr, has not.

To recap: The what-color-is-the-dress brawl broke out Thursday night with a Scottish wedding band singer’s post on Tumblr, which prompted a story on BuzzFeed, which set off a firestorm across social media platforms.

Peter Christodoulou, CEO of Roman Originals, was doing yoga at his home at 6 a.m. Friday in the United Kingdom when he learned the $77 body-con dress accomplished what Kim Kardashian’s ample derriere failed to do - break the internet. He told the Washington Post that “it was absolutely nuts all day.”

Christodoulou started Roman Originals with his siblings in 1978, expanding from an eight-person firm manufacturing 150 garments a to a brick-and-mortar and online retailer with 1,000 employees and $74 million in annual sales today. On Friday, website visits skyrocketed from an average of 10,000 per day to “excess of a million.” Sales soared by 347% as the staff replenished sizes on the website, which said #THE DRESS IS NOW BACK IN STOCK. Roman Originals also confirmed the color on Twitter.

Meanwhile, at Tumblr, visits to the singer Caitlin McNeill’s “swiked” account hit 73 million. Records were shattered at BuzzFeed, with some 37 million page views of the first post, translated into five languages with comments spanning the world. At 10 p.m. there were more than 657,00 users on the site, eclipsing a preview high of 460,000 set last year.

Just as Roman Originals went into warp-speed mode to handle the social media and website demands of the day, BuzzFeed published a tech blog detailing how its staff promoted #The Dress, brought neuroscientists in to explain and kept up with the internet demand in technical terms far beyond my comprehension.

All over a $77 mother-of-the-bride dress. Crazy, yes. But what does it say about our culture? And what does it mean for retailers and marketers?

This story confirms that the internet is host to communities, which unite over stories as seemingly trivial as #the dress or as devastatingly serious as a tsunami or terrorist threat. It is an integral player in pop culture. One photo can reach millions of mobile phones on seven continents in a flash. Understanding and being current on one social media platform – such as Facebook or Twitter – is not enough, as evidenced by Tumblr’s role in the story. You should expect the unexpected, 24/7, and be ready to react.

Christodoulou told the Washington Post his company had purposefully kept “under the radar” while expanding but “obviously, I think that may change now. I’m hoping that what this really gives us is brand awareness and global recognition.”

But what the cyber-world really want to know if there will indeed be a white-and-gold version of the dress. The answer is yes, but delivery is probably five months out.

In the meantime, and in the speediest cash-in on #The Dress meme, a company called Bastex will be releasing a iPhone 6 case 2-pack showing both versions of The Dress. While not available until March 27, you can pre-order now on Amazon.

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