How Consumer Faith and Social Media Saved Lives: The Story of the #DistanceDance Campaign



“Marketing is the opportunity to live your DNA in a way that resonates with your audience.” — Kenny Gold, Director of Social Media, North America at Grey


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If you think TikTok dances are just another form of social media posturing, think again.

During #SMWONE the companies behind the viral #DistanceDance campaign shared the story behind the success and the major learning lessons from the experience. Primarily, how consumer faith in brands and social media have the powerful ability, and responsibility, to directly make a positive impact. The fundraising campaign, which launched late March, is still turning heads all over the world due to the incredible social media following of TikToker Charli D’Amelio who took to the platform with an important mission: save lives by encouraging people to adhere to government and health official regulations to stay home.

Here are the primary insights and takeaways:

  • Brand propose is not marketing
  • The days of slapping #spon on content is over
  • Don’t negate the power of implicit trust and intuition

The 96-Hour Hustle

The campaign started with a string of phone calls on a Friday night, the first from Ohio Governor Mike DeWine to Procter & Gamble CEO David Taylor with a problem: the state’s younger demographics weren’t practicing social distancing. DeWine was eager to see how the CPG giant could help spread the word about the importance of staying at home to flatten the curve and stop the spread of COVID-19.

Taylor then called P&G chief brand officer Marc Pritchard, who reached out to Debby Reiner, president of global brands at longtime agency partner Grey and the ideas began. Within 24 hours after that, the Grey team, including Gold, came up with the #DistanceDance concept and partnered with TikTok to get D’Amelio signed on. The following morning P&G called Grey with the formal pitch and that rest was Internet history.

Within four days, by the following Tuesday evening, Grey and Tiktok had tapped D’Amelio to create the video. To date, the video has earned the top title of most-watched video on the platform and the most viewed challenge. The challenge has attracted 15 billion views while the video itself has garnered over 191 million views and over 2 billion impressions. As far as original videos are concerned, more than 4 million have been made by celebrities such as Jason Derulo, Ne-Yo, Migos, Ashley Tisdale, and many more.

Picking a platform and influencer

Kenny Gold, Director of Social Media at Grey explained that when Pritchard reached out for help, they needed to navigate to fundamental obstacles. First, find a platform with inventory that could deliver the message in a new way that was right for this audience. And second was time, because every day mattered and Grey and P&G knew time was of the essence. Partnering with TikTok and Charli helped us solve both.

Barbara Jones, Founder and CEO, Outshine Talent, articulated this notion of a true collaboration by explaining, “Charlie and her family really understood the importance of this message from the beginning. They walked the walk and they knew this was important. Because she has such an impact on her fans and her audience…she really had the mentality of having fun and had confidence could spread positivity and do good with this. She was all in.”

TikTok‘s Lauren Birnbaum added, “This was the first branded PSA activation that TikTok funded from a media perspective. We felt so strongly about the cause and that our platform could take this message to the masses with a huge impact.”

The confluence of reach, speed, and agility

When asked about the nuances of how they worked together and how success would be measured, Gold, Jones, and Birnbaum were unanimous in that it was agility and having trust behind their shared goal of spreading this important message. TikTok delivered the ease of production and serving as the largest megaphone.

“We needed it to be a place of extreme reach and we needed it to be a place that would be breakthrough in the truest sense of the term. If it was anywhere else, we wouldn’t have cut through as deeply. It was the right medium, right time, and the right level of production. Then we asked, who has the voice of Gen Z in her mouth? That’s Charlie. It was truly lightning in a bottle.”

Jones added, “I think for TikTok specifically too, it is a benefit to the platform to not overthink the creative; not to dot the I’s and cross T’s that you may think you have to do for others. The beauty with TikTok is its natural ease. Sometimes when you have big brands and agencies and long lead time it can hurt you.

“At TikTok we say we love to run and in this case, we were sprinting as fast as we could,” echoed Birnbaum.

With the notion of one team, one dream when asked about how success was measured the group collectively shared that reach and awareness were most critical as their overarching goal was to get a specific and unifying message out to the intended audience.

Influencer marketing and brand purpose dos and don’ts

If you’re going to entrust your brand and its purpose in the voice of someone else and into the community of someone else you have to work together, explained Gold, “it has to be a true, co-creation partnership. The days of slapping #spon on a piece content is over.”

There is a difference between social good marketing and brand purpose, Jones echoed. “Brands and agencies need to get ahead of the curve, actually talk to their creators versus go out to them as sheer amplifiers, pull some little focus groups together, and start crowdsourcing about what really works.”

Birnbaum added that from a branding perspective in more cases than not it’s more efficient and cost-effective to let go of the reins and lean on the creator to convey the message as natively as possible. “Instead of a huge video shoot you can give that credit and autonomy to the talent,” she shared.

On the topic of brand purpose, the group underscored themes of loyalty, genuity, and making mission the boss.

Gold shared, “Brand purpose is only as good as its ability to permeate through times like this. Brand purpose is not marketing. Marketing is the opportunity to live your DNA in a way that resonates with your audience.” P&G is a prime example of a brand on the front lines standing by its mission to get essential products into the hands of those who need it.

Brands need to put the cause above them now more than ever Birnbaum added. You take P&G in this case, their branding and logos were almost absent.”

The group closed summarizing their brand ethos of the campaign in one word. The outcome: “Inspiring, teamwork, blooming, and helpful.”

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