Alicia Keys wrote a song a few months ago to acknowledge the heroes in her life—her mother, grandmother, friends. They get up every day to face the boss, deadlines, stresses of raising kids. With grace they face life, even when it’s heavy and hard.
You’re the engine that makes all things go, she sings in “Good Job.” And you’re always in disguise, my hero.
Since then, the coronavirus has sickened more than 1 million people in the U.S. and taken nearly 57,000 lives, according to research firm Worldometer.
As tales of suffering multiply, so do communities reveal themselves. Nurses, doctors, janitors, pizza deliverers, the guy at the convenience store selling you your lager or chardonnay so you can get through the night—regardless of job function, salary, or education, they are all essential workers now, equally. They leave the safety of their homes while the rest of us practice physical distancing to reduce contagion.
“Fast forward to now. If anybody told me that this would be happening, I would have never imagined,” Keys said last Thursday on CNN’s prime time town hall with Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta. “Crazily enough, this song is like, it was written for this moment…there are so many people who are heroes among us right now.”
Keys’ creativity spreads like stardust, appearing when and where people need it most. This time, it’s the centerpiece of the Ad Council’s latest project to educate Americans about the virus.
Launching this week, #OutThereForUs gives Instagram and Twitter users the opportunity to honor people performing essential jobs in their communities.
The non-profit’s partnership with the 15-time Grammy Award winner marks the third phase of its campaign to unite Americans via positive messages amidst the country’s collective trauma. The first phase promoted the #alonetogether idea; the second encouraged people to #stayhome. In a recent four-week period, the messages were seen more than 4 billion times.
This phase—the Alicia phase—reflects the quarantined public’s empathy.
Some 65% of Americans say they are concerned about the safety of healthcare and other frontline workers, according to the council’s Coping with Covid-19 weekly research series. Only the economy ranks higher on the list of worries, based on an online survey of 1,000 people.
Roc Nation, Jay-Z’s entertainment company, sparked the musical collaboration, even though it seemed destined from the start. A Bronx hospital has been blasting the duo’s smash hit, “Empire State of Mind,” when a person is taken off a ventilator or deemed healthy enough to go home.
“They reached out to us about the new song that she was releasing,” Ad Council Chief Campaign Development Office Heidi Arthur says. “And it just so happened to be perfect timing because we were working with our [pro bono] partners over at R/GA on a thank-you tribute to the frontline workers. That’s the genesis of the marrying of that beautiful song with what was already just such a powerful and emotional idea.”
At its core is a 1:16-minute clip from “Good Job.” As Keys and her piano make poetry, still photography and copy overlays tell the story of dedication meriting national tribute. R/GA Art Director Emily Stetzer created the video along with copywriter Namwan Leavell, who also came up with the hashtag. The New York Times, Getty Images, UPS and Walmart donated visual assets.
The film—running on YouTube, Cheddar, Facebook and Extreme Reach’s advertising platform—ends with a call to action: “Submit a thank you message to an essential worker near you with #OutThereForUs.”
“It’s the Ad Council essentially not making ads,” R/GA Executive Creative Director Chris Joakim says. “We’ve seen a lot of brands thanking essential workers in their own way. And what excited us about this idea was that it’s real people.”
As long as hashtags appear in posts, R/GA and Council teams will be able to find and curate them for OutThereForUs.com and some of the biggest out-of-home signage in the country. The shorter a post, the more likely it is to fit on a digital billboard.
“Nobody’s outside except for those that are working,” Stetzer says. “So, the only people that will see them are these frontline essential workers.
“We’re giving people an opportunity to say their thanks—to those who are outside when they can’t be inside.”
Ally Financial, Clear Channel Outdoor, Lamar Advertising Company, and Vistar Media are donating space, including a takeover at Times Square, Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, and the junction of I-10 and 100 in Los Angeles. Outcome Health is donating billboards near hospitals—angular fixtures complementing the daily sound of handclaps soaring out of grateful citizens’ windows.
For its part, R/GA knows what it takes to create messages of inclusion. The agency first worked with the Ad Council to produce 2015’s Love Has No Labels campaign.
“We’ve seen the better side of the industry with our work with the council, because we see how so many partners are willing to help them out,” R/GA ECD Mike Donaghey says. “Obviously, this is a very unfortunate time of need, but they’re really getting help for all their different initiatives.”
Photo courtesy of Out There for Us / Ad Council