When We All Vote’s 2022: Bringing Pop Culture to the Polls
At When We All Vote, we’re on a mission to close the race and age gap and change the culture around voting to increase participation in each and every election.
By: Jess Blair, Managing Director of Entertainment & Talent Partnerships
Our Entertainment & Talent team makes culture change possible by merging popular culture, politics, and civic engagement in a way that is authentic, creative, and engaging to our target audiences. From the TV shows we stream to the music we listen to and the memes we share, we make sure that voting is a part of the story all year long.
Through pop culture, we’re able to reach our target audience where they are, through messengers they trust, and in ways that feel authentic and create significance around voting.
This work enables us to make voting meaningful to all eligible voters, but especially to young people and people of color.
Changing the culture has been a foundational piece of our work from the very beginning. In 2018, When We All Vote launched with a slate of celebrity Co-Chairs, including Kerry Washington, Chris Paul, Selena Gomez, and our founder, former First Lady Michelle Obama, among others. We recognized at an early stage the invaluable reach these celebrity voices provide for our messaging around voter registration and turnout.
During the 2020 presidential election, we tapped into cultural moments with dozens of virtual events, including the Couch Party series, and partnered on events like Roots Picnic, Lollapalooza, and Verzuz battles. Through challenges like #MyStartingFive and Rally the Vote, we reached sports fans across the country. And in partnership with Goldman Global Arts, we launched a campaign that displayed voting murals on billboards from Times Square to Miami.
We knew that in order to keep changing the culture around voting in 2022, we would need to overcome barriers and continue to innovate. Midterm election cycles traditionally generate less attention and lower turnout than presidential years and the 2020 election left eligible voters with lingering fatigue. With the world opening back up as COVID restrictions lifted, we had to switch up our strategies to again aim to meet people where they are — which at this point, was a bit of a hybrid “not totally virtual but not back to pre-pandemic level.”
We started 2022 by focusing on awareness and reminding people that it was a midterm election year. On January 4th, Michelle Obama guest-starred on the season premiere of the series finale of Black-ish, and When We All Vote was an integral part of the episode storyline, creating a huge opportunity for awareness with an audience we don’t easily reach — a national base of broadcast television viewers.
We deepened our partnership with the peer-to-peer texting app Community, launching a program where voters receive a message from our celebrity Co-Chairs to register to vote on their 18th birthday. Finally, we brought on five additional Co-Chairs that help us reach our target audiences more directly. At the end of January, H.E.R., Becky G, Stephen Curry, Jennifer Lopez, and Bretman Rock joined Mrs. Obama and returning Co-Chairs, Selena Gomez, Tom Hanks, Liza Koshy, Janelle Monáe, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Chris Paul, Megan Rapinoe, Shonda Rhimes, Kerry Washington, and Rita Wilson.
In June, after the majority of the primary elections had passed, but before we dug deep into voter registration season, we took time to broadcast our theory of change at the first-ever Culture of Democracy Summit. The event brought together leaders from an array of cultural industries to discuss the opportunities and the challenges they face in supporting democratic participation.
At the Summit, in collaboration with Paramount Global and American University’s Center for Media & Social Impact, we unveiled first-of-its-kind research on civic representation in popular television in America.
The research showed that while civic themes show up in popular television shows, authentic portrayals of civic leadership are lacking. Portrayals of civic leaders often lack diversity and rarely show how people can take action on social issues in their communities. Specifically, portrayals of voting and voter registration are almost non-existent.
Having research and data to support our assumptions on civic representation allows us to directly address this issue with the cultural leaders and creators, and hopefully promote more civic leaders and behaviors appearing in movies and on television, normalizing and familiarizing voting to the American public for lasting change.
Another way we socialize our theory of change is through internal employee engagement at leading public and private sector corporations. From Nike to Paramount Studios to the Minnesota Timberwolves, we work with corporate leaders to create unique programming that caters to a specific employee base’s interests, awareness, and geographic location, and provides them with both individual and community-oriented calls to action. These briefings allow us to equip individuals with the knowledge and the power to embrace the role they play in furthering a healthy democracy
As we moved to the end of the summer, our focus zeroed in on getting as many eligible voters as possible registered to vote ahead of varying states’ deadlines. Knowing how difficult it is to move people down the funnel from awareness to taking action (and in some states, taking a series of actions) to register, we knew we needed to create a blitz of touchpoints that would reach our target audiences and encourage them to get registered.
Knowing how limited our budgets were, especially in comparison to the brands who we were competing with for the eyeballs and attention of young people across the country, we had to get creative. Our top-performing partnerships to promote voter registration included:
- A sweepstakes competition to meet Co-Chair Becky G at the Latin GRAMMYs, resulting in over 1,000 voter registration checks within one week, with 60% of competition entrants below the age of 30.
- An integration with the NBA Election Center, promoted through a 30-second spot that played throughout the finals games in stadiums and on national television.
- Rapid response videos featuring Co-Chair Liza Koshy highlighted all the actions to combat climate change since the 2020 election as the result of the will of the voters and became one of our top performing social media posts this year with over 300,000 impressions on Instagram alone.
- Our partnership with 18 celebrities on Community allowed us to reach their audiences directly through a trusted messenger and promote voter registration on users’ 18th birthday.
- A varied and consistent social media campaign of voting educational content, dates and deadlines reminders, and trending memes all shared by celebrities, artists, athletes, influencers, and cultural leaders. Voting-related posts were shared on others’ social media accounts directly or in collaboration with When We All Vote’s social accounts, which allowed us to not only reach new audiences, but also attract new followers and hopefully life-long voters.
Finally, as we moved into the last remaining weeks before Election Day, we used these same cultural leaders and platforms to make sure registered voters turned up at the polls! Through our Party at the Polls program, we encouraged Americans across the country to see voting as a fun, community experience. In order to take the party atmosphere beyond the hundreds of events on the ground, we partnered with award-winning brand and original content company Portal A on a social campaign to reinforce the spirit of the Party at the Polls program and to encourage people across the country to celebrate their vote.
We partnered with an array of influencers online, including Kerry Washington, Kal Penn, Alicia Keys, and dozens of micro-influencers to empower voters to cast their ballot. The campaign garnered a reach of 105 million and generated 349,000 unique social engagements. Whether it was a community cookout, a group ballot drop-off followed by a local happy hour, or a motorcycle ride to the polls, we witnessed voters everywhere turning out to vote and changing the culture around the act of voting.
Election Highlights with When We All Vote
It takes all of us to protect and strengthen our democracy. Thank you for being part of this fight.
In the 2022 midterm elections, 46.9% of eligible voters cast a ballot and young people aged 18 to 29 had one of their highest turnout rates in a midterm election in the last three decades.
Through our year-long awareness campaign and our blitz-style strategy ahead of the election, we learned that there’s a unique role for big-name celebrities, local micro-influencers, and everything in between. For the biggest impact, all should be considered differently, but valued equally.
Although this finding reinforces one of the biggest challenges of nonprofit marketing, paid media still outperforms organic. When trying to reach a broad audience, our biggest ROIs came from paid media partnerships. And lastly, a belief we’ve held since our inception in 2018 was again reinforced this cycle:
The best person to get someone to register to vote is a trusted messenger, and consistency builds trust in those voices and creates more impactful outcomes.
As we look ahead to 2023, 2024, and beyond, When We All Vote will continue to find new ways to infuse voting into cultural moments and change the culture of civic participation, and ultimately, of our democracy.