Using Online Video To Make the Case for the Freedom to Marry
Telling emotionally powerful stories in compelling ways was a central element of our strategy: building a critical mass of public support for the freedom to marry (ultimately, we grew support from 27% in 1996 to 63% in 2015). People are hardwired to connect to stories and those stories can inspire action, generate donations, change hearts and minds and build bases of support. One of the most effective ways of telling stories in the digital is through the use of video.
In 2010, with a newly expanded team, Freedom to Marry began a shift toward people-centered storytelling that placed real gay and non-gay people and their stories at the heart of the campaign. The storytelling work took multiple forms – with online video being one of our prime means. From 2010 through the historic Supreme Court ruling in favor of the freedom to marry nationwide, Freedom to Marry created more than 40 online videos and generated millions of views across various social media platforms. We saw this kind of work as an effective way to spark and frame the millions of conversations we knew were needed to move hearts and minds.
The visceral nature of video allowed us to emotionally tell the stories of same-sex couples harmed by marriage discrimination.
The visceral nature of video allowed us to emotionally tell the stories of same-sex couples harmed by marriage discrimination, elevate the voices of messengers who became critical allies in the fight, and communicate information in visually dynamic ways. By showcasing the stories of a wide range of messengers, we were able to share the stories of LGBT people and allies of many different races, from young to old, from every region of the country, and from different socioeconomic backgrounds. That diversity of stories helped us to reach potential supporters with stories that they were more likely to be able to connect to. And throughout, we connected the individual elements to the central narrative and overall frame we drove nationally.
We built the video content strategy using insights gleaned from research commissioned by Freedom to Marry and our partners on what authentic messages needed to be emphasized to move reachable-but-not-yet-reached voters into the “supports the freedom to marry” category, and what message delivery would further passion and excitement among the marriage movement’s base.
The videos were conceived and created with targeted audiences in mind and to achieve specific goals. The chief goals for Freedom to Marry’s video strategy were to:
- Grow public support by sparking and framing millions of conversations
- Support state campaigns in winning marriage
- Build the marriage movement into a force for political and cultural change
- Make the case for why marriage matters to same-sex couples
- Dramatize the harmful effects of marriage discrimination
- Advance our central national narratives (for example, with the freedom to marry, families are helped and no one is harmed; America is ready; delay is harmful).
Distribution Strategies and Tactics
For each video we released, we created a carefully crafted distribution strategy that included social media, email, outreach to bloggers, and paid distribution through online ads and earned media.
Social media was a crucial platform for distribution of Freedom to Marry video content especially Facebook and YouTube. We leveraged the rise of the visual social web to create video content that would not only reach its intended audiences, but that would also be compelling enough for viewers to share the videos with their friends, families and other social connections. By focusing on creating video content that our supporters were inspired to share, we were able to reach millions of people who we would not otherwise have been able to reach.
YouTube is the second biggest search engine in the United States (after Google), and through smart tagging, we were able to make our videos more visible to potential supporters. We also used YouTube TrueView ads and pre-roll ads to reach specific audiences, for example, African-Americans, people living in southern states, and conservatives. Targeting allowed us to connect with the kinds of people each message was designed to reach in an efficient and economical way.
Facebook was also a huge driver of video views, especially beginning in 2014 when the platform placed a greater emphasis on natively uploaded video. By uploading videos to Facebook and YouTube we were able to take advantage of the unique properties of each platform and reach wider audiences.
We ran ad campaigns on Facebook to get our video content in front of key audiences and to help amplify the larger narratives that Freedom to Marry was driving forward. Facebook targeting capabilities enabled us to be even more specific in our ad targeting than with YouTube. Depending on the audience we were aiming to reach, we could target the ads based on the viewer’s age, geography, interest, and connection to LGBT and/or progressive organizations.
In 2012, we began using Tumblr as an additional platform for content distribution.
Our email list was also a crucial video distribution channel. For each video release, we crafted a multi-email arc urging our hundreds of thousands of email supporters to watch and share the videos. The emails linked to specially created video landing pages with social media sharing options built in. After viewing the videos, supporters could then easily share the videos on Facebook and Twitter.
Because we were focused on message delivery as well as message – distribution as well as content – Freedom to Marry worked with LGBT and progressive bloggers to highlight relevant video content. Bloggers were important early supporters of Freedom to Marry’s video content, helping it to reach wider audiences. We provided bloggers with briefings and updates from Freedom to Marry leaders and resources that they needed to write about the progress we were making.
For each video release, the digital and communications teams partnered on pitches to garner earned media for the stories featured in the videos. One of the best examples of the joint pitches was the media work around the Freedom to Serve, Freedom to Marry campaign, which used videos to highlight the negative impact that DOMA had on married gay service members and their families. The campaign encompassed a dozen videos that focused on real-life profiles including the stories of families like Chief Warrant Officer Charlie and Karen Morgan and their daughter. Charlie was suffering from stage IV breast cancer, and the video dramatically made the case for repealing DOMA to ensure that her family would receive survivor benefits after she passed away. Using the video as a hook along with interviews with the family, our staff was able to garner earned media stories in publications across the country.
Key Lessons Learned
- Have a clear goal in mind before creating your video that ties into your larger organizational goals.
- Use real people, not actors, to tell the most compelling stories. Storytelling should be at the heart of your video strategy.
- Focus on creating an experience for viewers that goes beyond talking points to create emotional connection.
- Create a distribution strategy that leverages the power of social media. Upload your video content natively to each platform and be sure to ask your supporters to share it.
- Leverage your video content to generate earned media. This will help you video and your message reach a broader audience.
- Check out YouTube’s nonprofit program for additional tools to help promote your videos and your cause: https://www.youtube.com/nonprofits
Selected Videos from Freedom to Marry
In 2010, Freedom to Marry announced its revamped and elevated role as the outward-facing central campaign intent on ramping up the marriage movement with a video entitled Winning the Freedom to Marry. The goals of this video were simple: Announce the “new” Freedom to Marry and grow Freedom to Marry’s email list.
Freedom to Marry created the motion-graphics video Roadmap to Victory with Blue State Digital to popularize our three-track strategy for winning marriage nationwide. When we released the video, many supporters didn’t know how we could win the freedom to marry nationwide. We wanted to make clear to supporters and potential supporters the national strategy and to help people see their role in the campaign.
Roadmap to Victory
In a groundbreaking partnership with In The Life Media in 2011, Freedom to Marry told three stories using video, including the story of married binational couple Cristina and Monica that was released in both English and Spanish.
Cristina and Monica
Another of the jointly produced videos was used as part of the successful campaign to win the freedom to marry in New York. The couple featured in the video are the owners of a popular Brooklyn restaurant. The video and accompanying media attention helped the couple become one of the poster couples for the New York marriage campaign.
George and Farid
Freedom to Serve, Freedom to Marry was a multi-media campaign run in 2012 and 2013 to galvanize opposition to DOMA as the Supreme Court was considering the constitutionality of the law. The campaign was created in partnership with Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. The campaign included more than a dozen videos that included animated and conceptual videos and short-form documentary stories of real-life military couples. The videos were also used by Freedom to Marry’s federal team as a vehicle for building support for the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill that would have repealed DOMA.
The Story of Naomi and Monica
Marine Captain Matthew Phelps and Ben Schock
We used video to grow Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry, a campaign to highlight and build support for the freedom to marry among young conservatives across America. The videos featured prominent young conservatives who supported the freedom to marry including Margaret Hoover, Meghan McCain, and the Huntsman sisters. The release of the videos was supported by paid distribution on Facebook and YouTube targeting young conservatives.
Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry
Meghan McCain for Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry
Video was also a vital part of Southerners for the Freedom to Marry, our public education campaign to grow and showcase support for marriage in the South. We launched in the campaign with an event in Atlanta that was headlined by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and a video from civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis. In the video, Rep. Lewis explained the connection between civil rights and the freedom to marry and why he was proud to be a southerner for the freedom to marry. The Southerners for the Freedom to Marry video was supported by a paid ad campaign on YouTube designed to target African-Americans living in southern states.
Rep. John Lewis is a Southerner for the Freedom to Marry
In 2014, Freedom to Marry commissioned Richard Blanco, who in 2013 became the first Latino and first openly gay person to be presidential inaugural poet, to write a new poem conveying the urgency of the marriage movement and celebrating 10 years of our campaign. The resulting poem entitled Until We Could was turned into a short film directed by Yen Tan and David Lowery and narrated by Robin Wright and Ben Foster. The film became Freedom to Marry’s most viewed video and it garnered critical praise from major news outlets.
Until We Could
In the fall of 2014 Freedom to Marry released Who We Are As Southerners, a dynamic and award-winning short documentary about Jessica and Chi Peoples and their seven-year-old daughter of Birmingham, AL. The video was created to appeal to and build support among African-Americans living in Southern states. The video earned major media attention across Alabama.
When a court ruling overturned Alabama’s marriage ban amid opposition by some state officials including Alabama State Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, Freedom to Marry quickly edited the video down to a 30-second TV spot that we ran across the state on major TV stations. This was the first TV ad in favor of the freedom to marry run in Alabama.
Who We Are As Southerners
Alabama: All Families Deserve Respect
To celebrate the Supreme Court’s historic ruling in favor of the freedom to marry, we created Freedom to Marry: Celebrating Victory, a powerful documentary short that traced the LGBT community’s rise from a despised minority to the winning of marriage nationwide. We premiered the video on July 9 at Freedom to Marry’s Victory Celebration in front of over 1000+ advocates and supporters from around the country, as well as Vice-President Joe Biden and presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett. The video celebrated the history and strategy, captured the joy and wonder of the transformation and triumph, and became one of Freedom to Marry’s most acclaimed videos.
Freedom to Marry: Celebrating Victory