To see the future of media, look no further than the keyboard on your phone. Scroll to the “symbols” section of the emojis and you will find an emoji that looks like an eye combined with a speech bubble. It’s an emoji introduced in late 2015, custom made to be the centerpiece of I Am A Witness, a multi-platform campaign that empowers teens to combat bullying. Whenever they see bullying, teens can call it out and offer support to the victims by posting the emoji on social media.
I Am A Witness embodies the new way the Ad Council is catalyzing social change. In the early days of Smokey Bear—who was created for us in 1944 by Foote, Cone, & Belding (now FCBWest) to address wildfire prevention—we would pair a worthy cause with a major creative agency. The agency would then craft a central message to be the hub of a campaign radiating outward to all major media. Smokey evolved natively for posters, but eventually made his way into newsprint, books, comic books, radio, and television spots. We’ve even seen some Smokey tattoos.
Collaborative, Creative, Native Content
For I Am A Witness, the Ad Council started once again by pairing a worthy cause with top ad industry talent, in this case Goodby Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco. But that was just the beginning. We were also privileged to convene and draw on a collaborative community of creative talent from tech and new media, as well as the crop of new influencers on the web and social media.
Taking their cue from Goodby, this creative community ran with the central idea of the campaign and developed offshoots native to their own platforms. I Am A Witness wasn’t broadcast outward from a single central point, but spread organically across a diverse, decentralized network that had deep reach to our teen target audience.
Snapchat created two custom geofilters, available nationwide. Anonymous messaging app Whisper crafted a series of posts that featured the campaign. Kik deployed digital stickers to incentivize their users. Twitter created a hashflag—a custom emoji that appears when you use the hashtag #iamawitness. Custom content was also developed for BuzzFeed, Instagram, Pandora, Tumblr, and Vevo. And of course Apple put the emoji on its millions of keyboards, with Google doing the same for Android. On YouTube, the cause was taken up by Grace Helbig, Glozell Green, Meghan Rienks, Ricky Dillon, Rachel Platten and activist Lizzie Velasquez.
The results for I Am A Witness include more than 1 billion impressions, 24 million video views and counting. And countless stories of impact. And we’re just 4 months in. In our 75 year history, the Ad Council has never done anything quite like I Am A Witness.
Evolving the Public Service Announcement for the 21st Century
Because of our role as a nonprofit dedicated to public service, we can bring together big players in tech, media, and advertising who wouldn’t normally collaborate. The resulting mix is as innovative as it is effective. The Ad Council has a rich history of traditional ad campaigns that have been highly effective at disseminating messages. But with our custom emoji, you don’t just receive the message. You become the message. Public service announcements have evolved into public service engagement.
As in the early days of Smokey Bear, we at the Ad Council have put ourselves at the forefront of communications. 2015 was the year we introduced our first emoji-centered campaign. It was also the first year that Oxford Dictionaries declared an emoji (the “face with tears of joy”) their Word of the Year.
In 2016, Smokey Bear turns seventy-two. What began as a poster has gone completely digital. Smokey now has an app, hundreds of thousands of Facebook fans, videos with millions of YouTube views, and thousands of Instagram and Twitter followers. He blogs, he’s had his share of successful memes, he hosts Twitter parties, and he even participated in a panel at SXSW Interactive.
Even though they evolved on two totally different platforms in different centuries, Smokey Bear and I Am A Witness are both carrying the Ad Council’s core mission into the future. At the end of the day they both show that a change of heart or a simple, direct action really can make a huge difference.