This is the story of how a video campaign was created with the intention of engaging artists on the front lines of a complex environmental and public health issue. Call it realness, authenticity, or cultural relevance, but that intention helped produce real results for an organization trying to spark the nation.
Green For All, a national initiative founded by Van Jones, was looking for an engaging way to launch their #FuelChange campaign; a movement to fight climate change and improve health by bringing zero-emission electric cars, trucks, and buses to underserved neighborhoods. On the strength of having produced multiple viral music video campaigns about social causes, Big Picture Anthems was hired by Green For All to produce a video campaign to launch #FuelChange.
Big Picture Anthems’ directive was to illustrate the health problems that come from tailpipe pollution in overburdened neighborhoods, in particular, asthma. We also wanted to broadcast a movement; people coming together to advocate for a solution — more funding for electric cars, trucks, and buses in affected areas across the country.
A Twist in the Strategy Phase
When Big Picture Anthems sat down with Green For All to plan the campaign, we all agreed that stories from people on the front lines of this crisis would resonate with people. So instead of using our in-house artists to write and produce the lyrics, we decided to open up a social media challenge. Local Artists submitted their verses on Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube to share how they’re affected by transit pollution. We worked with Green For All to build a web page for the Challenge, providing the beat, fact sheets, background info and examples of verses, so they could be equipped with all the ammo they need to write powerful verses.
A Conversation Starts…
We had submissions from artists from all over the country, from black to white, and young to old. We even had a grandmother submit a verse! Artists posted their verses with the hashtag #FuelChangeChallenge. They were reaching people in real-time with lyrical talent and storytelling, putting a face to this public health crisis.
This creative process framed the conversation about a complex environmental issue in a very human, visceral, way. Rappers, singers, and poets were approaching the same topic with different styles, flows, and cadences and articulating science and public health concepts to their friends and followers. For example, here’s a line from Warren Dickson from 3rd Rock Hip Hop, a featured artist: “More asthma and cancer, I guess we could say that it’s lethal, just google particulate matter, it’s killing a lot of our people.” After seeing the immense talent that was contributed from all over the country, we were able to select four amazing artists who all came from environmentally overburdened communities: West Oakland, Watts (L.A.) and New Bedford, MA.
From a visibility perspective, the #FuelChangeChallenge was attracting attention. Before we got to the production stage of the anthem, there were already hundreds of thousands of impressions for the hashtags and issue. We had built a community around this project; not just the artists who submitted, but also fans and activists who followed the submissions, commented on the social media videos and were waiting for the main event — the #FuelChange Anthem.
We had overcome our first challenge: finding artists who could bring transit pollution and electrification to life. Our next challenge was merging the talent into one cohesive anthem while staying true to what has made our video campaigns successful — authenticity. We conducted studio sessions in three (spell it out) cities, communicating through video chat and emails to get the anthem to sound like a seamless, powerful call for change. Video shoots followed from coast to coast, lots of editing ensued, and then more editing, until we got it right. The stories communicated by the artists felt real, as they were noticeably emotional, and they communicated a sense of urgency. And the upbeat and overall optimistic nature of the video with visuals of electric vehicles and regular people chanting “we’re gonna change this” in the chorus, provided a hopeful and powerful way to communicate solutions.
On April 3, 2019, Green For All launched the #FuelChange campaign by holding an event in Oakland and releasing the #FuelChange Anthem online. Within hours of its release, the video caught fire on Twitter. Influencers such as Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Alyssa Milano, Ashley Judd, and presidential candidate Jay Inslee were retweeting the video. Organizations across the country who had been pushing for reform around this issue for years were sharing the video. They finally had a rallying cry that spoke specifically to their issue. And young people of color were engaging with the content. Green For All National Director Michelle Romero says that “People who saw this video and maybe never thought of themselves as environmentalists, all of a sudden understood that tailpipe pollution was not only affecting the climate but actually affecting their health.”
The impact of the video on the #FuelChange campaign has been undeniable. Overall, the video eclipsed 500,000 views and 1,000 social shares. It led to over 1,000 new sign-ups on FuelChangeNow.com, and 130 new volunteers. If you’ve spent any time in non-profit work, you’ll know that getting that many new volunteers is really difficult! The movement is now going strong; bills are being introduced in congress and many school districts are moving towards electric bus fleets. And the key to passage of such bills and systems change is to make a greater number of people aware, which this effort has helped do.
There was a great amount of strategy and intentionality that led to these results. With this recipe of community engagement and authentic artistic expression, we at Big Picture Anthems have developed a model that can work for many other causes. If your organization has an upcoming campaign, consider an approach that continues to produce awesome energy and impressive results.
Watch the video below to learn more:
Ben Gilbarg is the Founder and Creative Catalyst for Big Picture Anthems.