How brands are getting voters to the polls (and mailboxes) in 2020
This is an election year with a vitality buoyed by the ongoing pandemic, economic recession, a renewed spotlight on racial injustice—and topped off with the sitting president already crying voter fraud over the predicted spike in voting by mail.
There’s plenty to get voters to the polls, but as past elections have only proven, a large number of Americans simply don’t end up there, especially the younger electorate set. In 2016, the last presidential election, only 46.1 percent of 18-29-year-olds voted, and the election was won by only 80,000 votes.
Brands across sectors, including technology, retail, entertainment, are eager to get young citizens registered to vote and get their ballots in early this year. Voting merchandise has quickly become a trend, some brands are paying employees to work the polls or building voter registration microsites and, for many, messaging is being developed with inclusivity and diversity in mind.
Patagonia is placing tags in its latest line of women's and men's shorts, reading “Vote the assholes out” in block lettering. It has been a catchphrase of Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard for years, according to the company, and speaks of politicians from any party who deny or disregard the climate crisis. Chouinard founded the 1% for the Planet community in 2002, which commits one percent of Patagonia’s annual sales to the environment.
“We have been standing up to climate deniers for almost as long as we’ve been making those shorts,” said the company in a statement. The shorts are regenerative organic certified, which meet standards for animal welfare, farmworker fairness and soil health.
“Remember, vote the assholes out—all of those politicians who don't believe we should do anything about climate change,” wrote Chouinard in a blog post for the 1% for the Planet community at the start of the pandemic. “Vote for the planet and against those who would do nothing. We have the power and now is the time to use it.”
Beyond the shorts, Patagonia has a number of ways it's working to get people to the polls. Patagonia is one of the founding members, along with PayPal and Levi Strauss, of Time to Vote, a nonpartisan coalition that aims to remove barriers to voting by having companies pay their employees to go to the polls. Time to Vote now has 882 members, with more than 700 companies signing up this past year, including Ben & Jerry’s, Bank of America, Nike, Macy’s, Lego, Unilever and others.
Like many of the companies that have joined Time to Vote, Patagonia will close its headquarters and shops on Election Day so Patagonia employees can serve as poll workers. The company is also partnering with local nonprofits in the 20 states where it has retail stores to share information about voting policies and answer voter questions, and has partnered with nonprofits Power the Polls, More Than a Vote and the Georgia Youth Poll Worker Project to recruit poll workers.
On its website, Patagonia is encouraging people to elect climate leaders to senate and has a state map of senate races to watch. It's also promoting its upcoming documentary "Public Trust," about how public lands play a large part in the climate crisis.
ViacomCBS and the Ad Council
In partnership with the Ad Council, ViacomCBS launched a new campaign today called “Vote For Your Life” which encourages voters to request their ballots and vote early with TV, digital and social messages.
ViacomCBS and the Ad Council point to a statistic that voter registration is down by as much as 70 percent in some states, largely affecting millennials and Gen Zers. To reduce costs for young voters through Oct. 6, MTV is funding the cost of printing and ballot applications at VoteForYourLife.com and VoteEarlyDay.org, two websites set up for the campaign, powered by Ballot Ready and TurboVote. VoteForYourLife.com allows users to check their registration status and supplies them with the steps required to register.
The nonpartisan campaign was developed by the Entertainment & Youth Group of Viacom CBS—which includes MTV, Comedy Central, Vh1, CMT, Logo, PopTV, TV Land, Paramount Network, and Smithsonian Channel—and is being shown across all brands, along with CBS, Pluto TV, Simon & Schuster, and AwesomenessTV. Partners including AdTheorent, Audiomack, Chegg, GIPHY, GumGum, Philo, Reddit, TuneIn and Univision, are supporting the campaign with donated social and media support.
"With the pandemic, social injustices, protesting and environmentally caused catastrophes like the wild fires on the West Coast and the hurricanes on the East Coast, our audiences are facing unprecedented and life-wrenching decisions which make the 2020 election so important to their daily lives," said Chris McCarthy, president, Entertainment & Youth Group, ViacomCBS. "That's why we’re launching the Vote For Your Life campaign to give them the resources to easily register, check their early voting options, vote safely and as early as possible."
With the pandemic still keeping its concert halls mostly empty, the music company is converting many of them into polling stations in November. Live Nation, which also owns Ticketmaster, has teamed up with LeBron James’ More Than a Vote initiative to coordinate which venues are double as polling stations. Live Nation operates about 110 music venues across the U.S., and so far, has confirmed that venues in Los Angeles (the Wiltern and Hollywood Palladium), Philadelphia (the Fillmore) and Austin (Emo’s) have been confirmed. The marquees on the venues will read: "Vote here."
Live Nation is also paying employees to serve as poll workers and is working with nonproft Power the Polls to track employee participation, and has partnered with nonpartisan organization HeadCount to provide a website, www.headcount.org/livenation, so music fans can check their voter registration status and get ready to vote.
“Core to what we do at Live Nation is helping amplify voices on stage around the world, and supporting voting is another important way we want to continue making voices heard,” wrote Michael Rapino, president and CEO of Live Nation, in a company blog post.
Foot Locker, Inc. is transforming more than 2,000 of its retail stores across the U.S. into voter registration sites to get young voters prepared to vote.
Beginning next week to align with National Voter Registration Day on Sept. 22, the company is partnering with Rock the Vote to bring a digital voter registration option to Foot Locker, Champs Sports, Footaction and Eastbay stores. Visitors to the stores or stores' dedicated websites, like www.footlocker.com/vote, can check if they’re registered, register to vote and sign-up for election reminders. Foot Locker, Inc. is also providing flexible hours for its more than 30,000 employees to vote on Election Day.
On Instagram alone, Foot Locker, Inc.’s family of brands—Foot Locker, Champs Sports, Footaction and Eastbay—have a following of 4.3 million 18 to 24-year-olds.
"In a year marked with such uncertainty, amid a pandemic and social unrest, our country's future—and our collective role in shaping it—has never been more important," said Richard Johnson, chairman and CEO of Foot Locker, Inc. in a statement. "At Foot Locker, our mission is to inspire and empower youth culture, so partnering with Rock The Vote was a natural fit to help educate and amplify the voices of today's youth."
In its first-ever voting intuitive, Under Armour has created a microsite called “Run to Vote” in partnership with Vote.org that allows visitors to register to vote, check their registration and request an absentee ballot at vote.ua.com and promoting the site to get young voters to the polls.
The company is also giving employees three hours of paid time off to vote, whether its in person or by mail, and is partnering with community groups like Black Girls Vote, a Baltimore-based nonprofit, to get the word out. In October, the brand will launch a running challenge of 11.3 miles, representing the November 3 date of Election Day.
The initiative was inspired by Under Armour CEO Patrick Frisk, who is voting for the first time this year since becoming a U.S. citizen.
“We make it really hard for people to vote in this country,” Frisk says in an Under Armour blog post. “... And if you don’t have availability to access information, it would be very hard.”
Along with marketing Election Day as a company holiday, CW has a new nonpartisan campaign called “CW Vote Actually” to amp up audiences to get to the polls. The broadcast, digital and social campaign features the CW’s on-screen talent that encourages viewers to head to Vote.org to register to vote or request a mail-in ballot.
“Given our combined multi-platform audience and our particular connection with younger viewers, The CW has a responsibility to use its platforms to clearly and powerfully encourage and educate everyone on the importance of being prepared to vote,” said Mark Pedowitz, chairman and CEO of The CW, in a statement.
The effort, which also includes social video spots with the hashtag #CWVoterReady, kicked off Sept. 15 and runs through Election Day.
CBS’ ‘The Late Show’ with Steven Colbert
It wouldn’t be an election cycle without Steven Colbert whipping up some desire in viewers to get to the polls. “The Late Show” has created its own website, BetterKnowABallot.com.The website focuses on the wide-ranging voter laws in all 50 states and advises visitors on how to navigate them. Stephen Colbert announced the news on “The Late Show” on Wednesday night.
TBS’ ‘Full Frontal with Samantha Bee’
In a year that was a true nightmare for America, “Full Frontal” host Samantha Bee is tapping into the horror-movie genre to try to scare Americans to hit the polls. Bee spoofs classic horror-movie trailers in her hilarious and endlessly sarcastic “I Know What You Did Last Election” campaign across social and digital.
For many singles, voting is a turn-on. OkCupid has been adding fire to those flames of desire. At the beginning of September, the dating site rolled out Voter 2020 badges users can place on their profiles to help selective singles search for civic-minded matches. Now, it's trying to get them all the way to the polls with its integrated campaign that includes out-of-home, merch, digital and social components—much of which celebrates voters as "VILFs."
The new effort from Mischief @ No Fixed Address, the U.S. agency founded by BBDO vet Greg Hahn and Canadian shop NFA, comprises assets that unabashedly display that acronym (Voter I’d Like to Fuck, if you didn’t know) and asks citizens to “F*%# People, not America.”
In a spot that spoofs political attack ads, viewers are introduced to Trevor, a man who is seemingly sexy from his appearance and charity work, but when it comes to his voting status, he falls flat. Trevor, viewers see, is not a registered voter. “A-list looks can’t make up for d-bag values. America: Don’t be a Trevor,” says the spot.
OkCupid is also giving out “VILF kits” to influencers, which contain VILF lawn signs, condoms, stickers, T-shirts and more. They will also be handed out at locations in Washington D.C. this week. The brand is also sharing posters across New York and Los Angeles that point out the states and cities that are far sexier based on its percentage of voting citizens. OkCupid will also share a video that begins as a makeup tutorial, but then becomes a rally to get people to vote.
“Practicing your right to vote is the biggest turn-on to OkCupid singles today, which is why we launched our Voter 2020 badge this month. Now, we’re using VILF to bring it to life and encourage singles across the nation to register and vote this November, because there’s nothing sexier than exercising your rights to vote,” said Melissa Hobley, chief marketing officer at OkCupid in a statement.
In a survey conducted by the dating site, 76 percent of OkCupid users said their date’s political stance is important to them. The site also found that voters are 85 percent more likely to get messaged and 63 percent more likely to get a match.
For this election, Snapchat isn’t messing around. Last week, the platform rolled out a number of voting tools, which includes a way for users to vote directly from within its app through a partnership with TurboVote.
A voter guide with information from the NAACP, BallotReady and other nonprofits, surfaces when users search for topics in the app such as “vote by mail” and “voter registration,” and a new voter portal lives in each user’s profile that can serve as a checklist for what they need to do to register to vote.
These resources will remain on for the forseeable future, the platform says, and when users turn 18, they will get a prompt to remember to register to vote. The app has also introduced new filters and vote stickers that it is sharing across social media.
Snapchat is also releasing several PSAs to encourage young voters to make their voices heard. A PSA with former President Obama went out on Tuesday where he encourages people to "swipe up" to register to vote. More PSAs are on the way with Ohio governor and Republican presidential nominee John Kasich and former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Snapchat influencer and celebrities like Snoop Dogg and Quincy Brown are sharing the voting tool in their Snap Stories.
The platform, which claims to reach 75 percent of 13 to 34-year-olds, says that more than 475,000 people have registered to vote as of Wednesday.
Spotify has a nonpartisan campaign it launched on Sept. 9, called “Play Your Part,” which focuses on getting young voters to the polls and especially first-time voters. The music-streaming app has partnered with musicians and influencers like Chloe x Halle, Conan Gray, Alaina Castillo and King Princess to guide listeners to its Voter’s Booth hub, which provides resources to learn how to vote.
Several podcasts, including “Famous Fates: Movers & Shakers” and “Dope Labs,” will have episodes about civic engagement and encouraging voters. Spotify’s podcast creation platform Anchor is also giving podcasters the opportunity to donate their ad space to nonprofits HeadCount, BallotReady or Democracy Works.
A sad fact: Content on Reddit receives an average of 165 million votes per day, and yet the 2016 presidential election only saw 140.1 million votes. That stat is why Reddit has an ongoing digital and out-of-home campaign called UP the Vote to get Redditors to place their votes at polls or by mail.
The campaign, which began at the end of July, almost shames consumers with how much Reddit users have voted on items on the platform compared to actual elections. “If you can vote for this United Steak of America on Reddit, you should vote for real America, too,” reads one billboard in Times Square.
On holidays leading up to Election Day, like National Voter Registration Day (September 22) and Vote Early Day (October 24), Reddit will host the AMAs and share information on how to vote early across the site.
For its first campaign under new chief marketing officer Mary Alderete (formerly CMO at Banana Republic), Gap is inspiring consumers to make their voices heard and head to the polls. The initiative, called Stand United, launched on Sept. 8 along with a limited-edition collection of voting merchandise like T-shirts and cloth face masks that read “vote,” “stand united” and “peace,” designed by artist and a member of Gap’s African American Networking Group, Stephanie Factor.
For the campaign, Gap takes inspiration from its founding year, 1969, with its choice of an anthem for 60- and 30-second videos across digital and social media. Kristina Train’s soulful “Get Together” became a song for unity and peace when it was re-released in 1969, and plays against scenes of diverse individuals and couples.
Gap is sharing the film, along with its own voter registration page, in partnership with Michelle Obama’s nonprofit When We All Vote and nonprofit Rock the Vote, and is donating $25,000 to each organization. On National Voter Registration Day, September 22, the brand is also hosting a series of events on social about why voting matters with speakers, while pop artist JoJo will debut her new song “American Mood.” Gap-owned brands Banana Republic and Old Navy are also selling vote merchandise and paying employees to work the polls.
“Gap was founded during a formative time in our country’s fight for equality with a mission to do more than sell clothes,” said Alderete in a statement. “Over 50 years later, Gap is still amplifying voices to bridge the gap between generations and cultures. We Stand United, for freedom, dignity, and equality, by advocating for our collective ability to create a better future together.”
To get out the vote this year, Levi’s has partnered with model Hailey Bieber and director and producer Oge Egbuonu (“Eye in the Sky,” “Loving”) for a PSA to encourage young people to head to the polls. Actor Jaden Smith, “Crazy Rich Asians” director John M. Chu and Black Lives Matter activist Thandiwe Abdullah also make appearances in the 2:30-long film, directed by Egbuonu and written by spoken-word artist Jazmine Williams. As the video states, there are 70 million eligible voters.
Along with the film, Levi’s is holding a series of talks on Instagram Live with prominent leaders of Black rights and voting rights organizations, as well as with the stars of the film, and has a microsite where customers can sign up to vote. The retailer is also donating $2.6 million towards voting rights organizations like the ACLU, Black Futures Lab, Rock the Vote and United We Dream. Levi’s is selling a line of “Vote” T-shirts, some of which are customizable, are also for sale online.
“With less than 75 days to go until the election, there’s no time to waste!” wrote Hailey Bieber in an Instagram post to her nearly 30 million followers.
Airbnb has its own microsite that provides users the ability to check their voter registration status and get resources on how to register and vote by mail. The online rental marketplace is calling it their “Civic Action Center” and is sharing it with its users and hosts. Airbnb is also partnering with nonpartisan organizations like Vote.org to get the word out and giving employees paid time off to vote for any election.
“Given the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever that voters have the information and resources they need to ensure their voices are heard in the upcoming election,” said Chris Lehane, SVP of global policy and communications at Airbnb. “Our Civic Action Center will help us reach the millions who use our site each day and provide them with the tools they need to exercise their right to vote on November 3.”