Just before Thanksgiving, the Ad Council premiered Rising, our first-ever short film (in our 76+ year history). The film was created for our iconic and Emmy-winning Love Has No Labels campaign, which celebrates diversity and furthers inclusion—a message that couldn’t be timelier. Producing and promoting a film was completely new territory for us and we learned so much, as we always do with this campaign.
If you’re not familiar with Love Has No Labels by name, you’re definitely familiar with our previous iterations and probably shed a tear or two over our Skeletons, We Are America/John Cena and Fans of Love viral videos, all produced with a brilliant and talented agency team at R/GA over the last 3 years. Here’s my post from just after we launched the first video.
Continuing with the successful tenets of the campaign, this year’s film included the element of surprise and tugged (hard!) at emotions. But the team took an entirely new approach. It’s a nearly 10-minute short film (yes, we made a movie, movie) that features a fictional story of a family, along with their diverse neighbors, coming together during a devastating flood. It’s heart-wrenching and a must-watch. And it’s based on research that shows that in times of crisis, people put aside their differences and come together to support each other. We’ve seen this recently in natural disasters like Hurricanes Florence and Michael and following the wildfires in California, and we’ve also seen it in the wake of recent tragedies like Pittsburgh. For more on that, check out this op-ed from our president/CEO Lisa Sherman.
The story is told to pose the thought-provoking question: Why does it take a disaster to bring us together? And the main goal is to encourage everyone to act more inclusively every day, not just in catastrophic moments. The film is branded entertainment at its best.
Here are a few lessons that we took away from launching the film.
1. Bring on the Talent (and the HEART)!
Along with our amazingly talented ad agency team from R/GA, we brought on production company Great Guns and acclaimed director David Nutter (Game of Thrones), along with screenwriter Lena Waithe (Master of None, The Chi). This dream team, particularly Nutter, literally sank their hearts into the film – David stayed in the water for three consecutive overnight shoots! We filmed on the Warner Bros’ Jurassic Park lot (so cool!). And many of the Emmy-winning cast and crew gave up other jobs to be part of our film because of their passion for the cause.
2. Timing is Everything
This campaign has consistently tapped into cultural moments (often in divisive times) starting with our initial launch after Valentine’s Day in 2015 before marriage equality was passed, and with our second video featuring John Cena for “We Are America” launched on July 4th in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election. This year, we premiered the film near the end of hurricane season (following Florence and Michael) and amidst some of our country’s most divisive moments (after Pittsburgh and Kentucky)—during each we saw stories of people coming together. It also happened to be World Kindness Day. And, we got lucky—coincidentally, a Game of Thrones announcement about the upcoming season came out on launch day which drove more interest.
3. Distribution and Amplification: Find the Right Home for Your Film
The Ad Council works in a donated media model (which means no media spend for promotional and film content). Through our outreach we were able to bring on Showtime to feature the film in programming, and we got promotional support donated from Facebook, Google/YouTube, FOX, The New York Times, National CineMedia, Pop Sugar, Upworthy, ATTN and more. We’re also hoping to get some love from film festivals this season and do grassroots community wide screenings in the coming months.
4. Star Power Always Helps
Through our internal Talent Engagement team, along with our partners at companies like iHeart, we were able to get the film in the hands of big celebs and influencers who are passionate about diversity and inclusion and wanted to amplify the campaign’s latest iteration. This message is so personal, and so were the talents’ tweets and posts! We got support from people like Susan Sarandon, Josh Groban, Steve Harvey and Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Below is my favorite tweet, it’s from Sarah Silverman. 😊
5. Recruit PR Partners Who Have Done This Before
We brought on partners like Big Time PR who have tons of experience launching short films. And worked with Weber Shandwick on strategy. Our internal team secured an exclusive with People, and we pre-pitched everyone else, which resulted in coverage in entertainment, advertising and consumer outlets like ET, Mashable and PopSugar.
6. A Touching Song Never Hurts
Music has always played an integral role in every iteration of Love Has No Labels (starting with Macklemore’s song in the first video and a remix of Hundred Waters’ Show Me Love in Fans of Love). In this one, when Show Me Love by Laura Mvula comes on, I dare you not to cry! Phil Harmonic ingeniously composed a score that builds to this closing song and matches the film’s key emotional moments.
7. Promotional Content: If You’re Premiering a Movie, Treat it Like a Movie
Working with R/GA, we created movie posters, web banners, social graphics and lots of other content to promote the film. We also made sure to get the assets placed on movie sites.
It’s always been a privilege to work on this campaign with the most incredible team, and I’ve never felt prouder. We can’t wait to see the film and our accompanying content continue to impact people throughout the country and the world.
Stay tuned for our docuseries with Facebook launching early next year—it will feature real people who have come together following crises who truly exemplify the themes of Rising.
In the meantime, watch Rising at LoveHasNoLabels.com. Share it. Come together. And know that love will always rise above hate.