A few weeks ago, Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon put the term "ring avulsion" into the national vocabulary after he got his wedding band caught on a table during a fall and nearly ripped his finger off. "A-v-u-l-s-i-o-n," Fallon instructed his 4 million viewers. "If you Google it … Well, it's graphic images, so don't Google it."
Taylor Holiday doesn't need to Google it—nor does he need avulsion explained to him. Those graphic photos? "We get sent them every day," he said. "People send in pictures of their stumps, saying, 'I wish you were around 10 years ago.'"
OK, we'd better explain. Holiday is the marketing vp for a company called Qalo (pronounced "kay-low"), an Orange, Calif.-based upstart that makes silicone wedding rings, high-performance elastic bands designed to snap off cleanly if they get caught on anything. Smooth, pliable and made in a slew of colors, most rings cost about $20. They're not fancy; they're not meant to be. Much like a bicycle helmet, the point is to break the product to spare the customer. As Holiday will tell you, "It's a safety risk to wear a metal wedding band."
There's no word on whether Fallon has since ditched his gold ring, but no matter—thanks to his trip and fall, millions of people now know about Qalo, whose use of targeted Facebook ads turned out to be a smart marketing strategy when the Fallon thing blew up on social media.
"Qalo is perfectly in line with branding's golden rule: taking advantage of a large-scale event and positioning the brand within it," says Peter Madden, president and CEO of Philadelphia-based brand consultancy AgileCat. "Fallon's accident created a social-media perfect storm, and Qalo's display ads were introduced perfectly within days of the news."
The funny thing here is that Qalo not only didn't plan on targeting Fallon fans, it has found at least half of its customer base, fittingly, by accident.
Two years ago, when Holiday's brother, K.C., and friend, Ted Baker, started the company, their target customers were the extreme-sports and CrossFit crowd—jocks annoyed by wedding bands biting into their skin while they were busy powerlifting or scaling cliffs. (Qalo stands for "Quality, Athletic, Love and Outdoors.")
But after hearing from a special forces Marine who'd discovered their rings online (and wore one to Afghanistan), the duo realized that Americans who use their hands as part of dangerous work—police, firefighters, EMS, military—might be a good group to target, too. "Our founders created Qalo because they hated wearing wedding rings," Holiday said, "and then we bumped into all these people whose problem we'd solved."
In fact, silicone wedding bands might soon solve a lot more people's problems, not least the 150,000 Americans who will suffer a ring-avulsion injury this year. A growing number of employers are telling their workers to leave their wedding rings at home. Late last year, for example, Starbucks revised its dress code to prohibit any rings set with stones (which are, apparently, breeding grounds for bacteria). Insurance concern VML goes so far as to recommend that employers require workers to take their rings off before fixing paper jams in office printers.
Madden believes Qalo's one liability is having a simple product—silicone band, made in China—that's easy for would-be competitors to copy. And they probably will. "That being said, in marketing, being first is critical," Madden said, "so Qalo should at least enjoy their run while the buzz exists."