"Gary from Chicago" and his fiancee won't have a single worry about their wedding if local business owners have anything to say about it.
They'll also have free pizza, free tickets to a Bulls game and gifts from Wal-Mart.
Businesses big and small are searching the Twitterverse for the new Oscar darling, who introduced himself as Gary Cole from Chicago and took social media by storm following his supposedly surprise appearance Sunday night at the Academy Awards.
Cole and his fiancee were part of a tourist group Oscar host Jimmy Kimmel had ushered into Los Angeles' Dolby Theatre during the awards show. Kimmel latched onto Cole, introducing him to the A-list celebrities packed into the theater. Denzel Washington pretended to marry the couple; Ryan Gosling appeared to whisper something into Cole's fiancee's ear.
And all the while, Cole and his fiancee played the tourist part. They had their phones at the ready, making sure to record the whole thing. Cole sported a shirt that said "Hollywood" and a star-struck expression.
Soon after, the hashtag #GaryfromChicago was trending, and brands entered the social media frenzy, offering free products and services to Cole.
The Bulls were one of the first, offering tickets to a game. Gino's East offered free pizza, and Wal-Mart tweeted that there were "complimentary gifts" in store.
Chicago-area small businesses followed suit.
"I saw the Bulls tweet and I said, 'You know, that's a nice gesture,'" said Tondalah Stroud, president and owner of F.O.G. Cosmetics in Calumet City's River Oaks Center. "The one thing I can offer is to do their makeup, so I offered right after the Bulls."
If Stroud hears back from Cole, she plans to send a makeup artist for his fiancee and her bridesmaids on the couple's wedding day. F.O.G. typically charges $165 for the bride's makeup and $65 for each bridesmaid, Stroud said. She also wants to throw in a free $250 compact vanity product.
Ebony "Khavoni" Roberts of NK Artistry Professional Salon Care in Tinley Park wants to do Cole's fiancee's hair on her wedding day and can also do makeup. And she didn't even watch the Oscars.
"I saw the highlights," Roberts said. "One of my friends was explaining to me what the hashtag was. When I saw the clip I was like, 'Oh my God, this is amazing.' Then it hit me: Everyone was offering something. 'You can do hair, so why not offer them something?'"
"Whatever they need, we can be available for it," Roberts said.
Jumping in on trending topics can be a good brand builder for companies, said Molly Lynch, founder of Chicago-based Lynch Communications Group. It gives companies exposure they may not otherwise get, Lynch said.
But there needs to be some vetting, she said. A brand needs to make sure its image aligns with the "influencer" — in this case, Cole — before making public connections, be that forming a long-term partnership or offering free stuff.
"If Gary from Chicago as an influencer, as a person, doesn't make sense for your brand, it's going to fall flat," Lynch said.
Roberts said she doesn't think her gesture will necessarily bring in more business. Like everyone else seems to be, she was charmed by Cole and his fiancee.
"They look like regular people, like us," Roberts said. "It just made sense."
It seems, however, that the brands showering Gary from Chicago with offers have yet to hear back from the mystery tourist.
Shelby St. Cin, social media strategist for Gino's East, said the pizza chain often extends free offers to keep its audience engaged and expects to hear from Cole soon.
After all, she said, "Why would you hide when you have all these freebies coming at you?"
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