‘I gotta take a knee like I’m Colin’: Brands like Sprite and IBM are wading into politically charged advertising with the help of digital publishers

‘I gotta take a knee like I’m Colin’: Brands like Sprite and IBM are wading into politically charged advertising with the help of digital publishers

Sprite’s newest ad campaign is less of a commercial than it is a public service announcement to vote.

The campaign is called “Get vocal” and encourages consumers to record and upload a video of themselves freestyling about an issue they care about. Clips are then pulled into a microsite and distributed through social media. Some of the user-uploaded videos wade into some heavy political territory.

“Police killing all my people, so I gotta take a knee like I’m Colin,” raps Izze the Producer.

In another uploaded video from rapper J. Latelle, the clip starts by saying, “We got a president who always lies to us.”

It’s the kind of work that a few years ago may have been deemed too risky for brands to weigh in on. But as more brands increasingly wade into political-oriented issues, Sprite and others are hoping to connect with younger consumers.

Behind the scenes of the campaign is digital publisher Attn:, which has used its roots in civic engagement and massive audience of young consumers to crank out a handful of voting and cause-related campaigns for brands leading up to Tuesday’s elections.

Read more: Here’s how startup Attn: averages a whopping 3.8 million views per video on Facebook

“Being apolitical or non-issue driven is no longer an option with millennial and Gen Z consumers,” Attn: CEO Matthew Segal told Business Insider. “Brands now know that they need to take a position or stand for something — or at the very least stand for civic engagement in the year 2018.”

Brands are pushing people to the polls

A number of brands have dived into hot-button issues over the past few years, some of which have been more successful (like Nike and Patagonia) than others (like Starbucks and Pepsi).

Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad
Katie Canales/Business Insider

Ahead of the midterms, a coalition of 150 companies have poured money into encouraging consumers to vote and tweaking their policies to allow employees time off to vote.

Brands are trying to make sense of what they should say

Attn: created the microsite for Sprite’s campaign and stitched together some of the clips into videos that are being distributed on the brand’s social channels. Fashion-geared social media platform VFiles sourced some of the talent for Sprite’s campaign.

Attn: is also promoting Sprite’s campaign with videos that are posted on Attn:’s Facebook page.

In addition to Sprite, Attn: has also worked with IBM, Freeform, and Everytown for Gun Safety on voting-related campaigns over the past few months.

Similar to its editorial content, the branded content aims to break down complex issues into easy-to-understand videos. Before co-founding Attn:, Segal ran the voter empowerment organization Ourtime.org.

For IBM, Attn: created a two-minute Facebook clip titled “Why your vote may be at risk this November” to explain misinformation and voting schemes.

And for FreeForm, the two media companies created a series of PSAs with talent from both companies that are airing on TV and social media. The PSAs focus on a stat the the average voter waited in line for 11 minutes to vote during the 2016 presidential election and compares the amount of time that people spend scrolling through Instagram.

Attn: is making white-labeled content for brands

Both the FreeForm and IBM campaigns use Attn:’s audience for distribution.

But the Sprite campaign is a bit different. Attn:’s logo isn’t splashed on the videos, nor is it distributed across the publisher’s network of social platforms. Instead, it’s an example of white-label work that the publisher is taking on for brands that’s based around insights instead of relying on its audience.

“A lot of our partners obviously want our audience and distribution, but I think where we have a lot of value to add that can certainly rival some ad agencies so to speak,” Segal said. “I think brands not only know that we know how to produce spots for social media but also know that we have a finger on the pulse on how young people feel and how to best make these topics digestible.”

Taryn Crouthers, head of brand partnerships at Attn:, said that about half of the company’s work with brands on corporate social responsibility campaigns come from brainstorming together as opposed to issuing requests for proposals.

“Brands are coming to Attn: because they value the fact that we understand how to talk and speak about these complex issues in a way that’s both entertaining but also informative,” she said.

Attn: is also paying to make its own voting-themed editorial content, including videos with former President Barack Obama and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

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