How George Takei Helped The Marriage Equality Crusade Boldly Go Where Few Campaigns Have Gone Before

George Takei, an American actor best known for his role in the original television series "Star Trek," may seem to some like an unlikely choice for today's major consumer campaign spokesperson. Yet since Monday, March 25th, Takei – who is openly gay and prolific on social media – has been credited by many with sparking the initial success of the Human Rights Campaign's (HRC) marriage equality crusade that turned many a social media profile picture crimson. With Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram still draped in the color of love two weeks later, the holistic and lasting success of the campaign can be attributed to several key elements. Sure to become a case study in social campaigning for years to come, here Julie Kane, a senior account executive in Cone's Social Impact practice, outlines those elements that helped the HRC boldly go where few viral campaigns have gone before.

1. Preparedness
In the past ten years, in part due to the passing of California's Proposition 8 in 2008, the state constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage, public opinion on the issue of same-sex marriage has changed dramatically. Polling from 2003 found only one-third (33%) of Americans supported same-sex marriage, while a new survey by the Pew Research Center conducted this year shows that nearly half (49%) of Americans are now in support.

With two significant same-sex marriage Supreme Court cases on the horizon, the HRC used this issue momentum to plan its "coup de social," sharing infographics on Facebook and conducting direct outreach to its vital supporters – from celebrities and politicians, to brands and everyday individuals – in advance of its March 25 campaign launch. Director of Marketing Anastasia Khoo attributes the outreach, which focused on raising awareness of the court cases and their significance, with driving early campaign adoption.

2. Simplicity
The HRC did not underestimate the power of the universal icon, which also serves as its brand emblem – the equal sign – and its ability to transcend language, race and sexual preference to make impact. The organization simply made its traditional yellow and blue logo red and pink and posted it to its Facebook page, asking others to use it as their profile pictures in support of same-sex marriage. Rough estimates from Facebook show that nearly three million had done just that by the end of one week, with additional tens of millions sharing the image to broaden its visibility.

By making the call to action simple, individuals and brands alike saw it as a "light" commitment they could make that wouldn't risk alienating their friends, family or followers.

3. Influencer Support
Celebrity affiliation continues to be king in rallying immense consumer awareness and engagement in a cause. Takei's Facebook post led to nearly 200,000 shares of the HRC's image. Soon after, celebs like Beyoncé (45M "likes"), Kim Kardashian (12M "likes") and hundreds of others took notice and pledged their own support.

While celebrity support of same-sex marriage is common, what is unique about HRC's campaign is the vast number of major consumer brands that took a public stance on a heated social issue. Many companies used the campaign as a branding opportunity, taking the HRC's icon and making it their own, from Bud Light using its beer cans as the equal sign, to Martha Stewart creating her version out of red velvet cake with white icing.

The HRC's massive awareness-building success may seem like it happened overnight – and for many of us, our social media pages turned into a sea of red equal signs in a matter of days, if not minutes. But the campaign hallmarks powerful learnings for marketers, with its perfect concoction of readiness, timeliness and simple calls-to-action… and George Takei.


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