How the ONE Campaign successfully harnessed the power of celebrities
Last year ONE persuaded an impressive array of celebrities to hand over their social media accounts to experts to campaign for a global response to the pandemic. Kate Critchley takes us behind the scenes of the campaign.
In the early days of Covid-19, governments understandably focussed on protecting their own populations. But as the virus spread around the world it soon became clear that a coordinated global response was urgently needed to ensure that no country was left behind.
The problem was that very few people were talking about a global response, and no one was taking a lead. So we launched the ‘ONE World’ campaign in April 2020 to push this up the agenda.
The challenge of using celebrities at such a sensitive time
Often the most effective way to get the word out is through the power of celebrity, but the environment was challenging at that point in time. As we went into lockdown, it quickly become apparent that although everyone was confined to their homes, some people’s lockdowns were, well, more comfortable than others… and celebrities were criticised for their ‘solidarity’ social media posts. Our artist and talent friends asked how they could support our campaign, but we knew that they couldn’t be the face of it – we had to be smarter about how to leverage their profiles and audience reach.
Another challenge at the beginning of the pandemic was the amount of misinformation and speculation circulating. People didn’t know who to listen to or trust. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, we were on calls with some of the world’s foremost experts discussing what needed to happen to end the pandemic globally. That was our lightbulb moment. Our talent partners could help make sure the rest of the world heard directly from these same experts.
How the #PasstheMic campaign was conceived
And so, with our creative partners at Hive we created Pass the Mic – a social media campaign in which celebrities, with their combined followership of 400 million people, handed over their platforms to global health experts for them to share the facts. Our original goal was for 19 talent–expert pairings, but that number soon doubled as more and more volunteered to take part, enabling us to curate a diverse range of international and locally known pairings for audiences in Europe, Africa and North America.
By matching household names with experts, celebrities could lend their public profiles without being the focus, allowing experts to share insights and information that might not have landed on people’s timelines otherwise. Working with high-profile individuals, such as Penelope Cruz, Hugh Jackman and Michael Sheen got positive media traction, which helped boost public awareness of #PasstheMic, creating a virtuous loop.
In addition to handing over their social media platforms, some celebrities interviewed their expert on Zoom. Before we knew it, we were a fly on the wall as Julia Roberts chatted to Dr Anthony Fauci, David Oyelowo listened to Gayle Smith recounting her time as head of USAID when Ebola swept through West Africa, and Sarah Jessica Parker had tears in her eyes as Dr Craig Spencer told her stories from the emergency room in her beloved New York. By the end, each expert drew the same conclusion: if the world didn’t come together to end this pandemic everywhere, it wasn’t going to end anywhere.
Responding to the Black Lives Matter protests
As with all campaigns, we had unexpected challenges along the way. We had planned for one takeover every day for the length of the campaign. However, just over a week after launching, tragedy struck with the death of George Floyd and we knew we needed to change the course of the campaign to make room for the important Black Lives Matter conversations happening across social media. So, we halted the remaining takeovers, and instead opted for a two-day grand finale on 1 July – the six-month anniversary of the first reporting of Covid-19. Over the course of two days, all the remaining takeovers took place, which gave us another great media moment.
Pass the Mic was very successful for ONE, helping us reach a huge audience that we don’t usually speak to. The campaign achieved 87 million views of the video interviews and almost 4 million engagements on social media, with Instagram outperforming other channels. Millie Bobby Brown’s partnership with Aya Chebbi accounted for the most engagement, reach and views among takeover pairings.
Over a year later, it is common knowledge that the pandemic won’t end anywhere until it has been beaten everywhere, but despite positive noises from leaders, there has not been enough movement on ensuring global vaccine access, or that the economic impact of Covid-19 doesn’t undo years of development progress. Ensuring experts have the same reach as celebrities is no doubt something that will be needed again before we finally beat this virus for good.
Kate Critchley is ONE’s Executive Director of Communications and Content.