ViacomCBS and the Ad Council are tackling coronavirus with open-source PSAs and Pauly D

One of the US’s biggest media companies is using its vast array of talent to help get the word out about staying safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

ViacomCBS has teamed up with the Ad Council for the ‘#AloneTogether’ campaign on social, digital, streaming and live television to help raise awareness, especially among younger viewers.

ViacomCBS’ Entertainment & Youth Brands, led by MTV, Comedy Central, Paramount Network, CMT and VH1, today launched #AloneTogether, a national social and talent led campaign that educates audiences on the importance of social distancing and drives unity through entertainment.

A focus on mental health is also a vital part of the effort, underscoring that social distancing does not mean social isolation.

“It's really, really important that we provide entertainment, but that we leverage our platforms to educate, inform and help,” says Jacqueline Parkes, chief marketing officer and executive vice-president digital studios for MTV, Comedy Central, Paramount Network, TV Land, VH1, PopTV, CMT and Smithsonian Channel.

Parkes says she and her crew were watching what was unfolding on social media as news of the virus spread. They saw that many people – especially in the younger generations – were still going to bars, movie theaters and parties.

“We felt like it was incumbent upon us to really lead the conversation," she explains. "Chris McCarthy, who's our president, always talks about being able to leverage our platforms for purpose. And we felt like in the moment – our audience is very young – we could take advantage of a massive social following and create this digital-led campaign to really communicate the importance of social distancing and empower young people that they can actually be a part of the change to slow down the spread of this virus and slow the curve.

"Literally within 24 hours we had many conference calls ... our social impact team reached out to several institutions so that we could make sure the messaging we were creating was done so appropriately."

Artists and talent from MTV, Comedy Central, Paramount Network, CMT and VH1 – along with the rest of the Entertainment & Youth Brands – are spreadig the word of #AloneTogether across their social platforms.

Stars involved include Jersey Shore’s Pauly D, Trevor Noah, David Spade, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Black Ink Crew and the Schitt’s Creek cast, among others.

The brands are developing #AloneTogether content to be shared collectively to their more than 500 million social followers, communicating the public health message through their distinct brand voices.

Creative executions include self-shot videos and live takeovers from music and celebrity talent across the portfolio sharing how they are #AloneTogether at home; daily engagement through series’ social accounts, encouraging conversation among fans; and inspiring profiles of young people who are making a difference during this pandemic.

The campaign will also be tailored and supported by Nickelodeon, BET, CBS and CBS All-Access, Awesomeness, Pluto TV and Showtime.

The open-source model is designed to easily and quickly expand across ViacomCBS and beyond. Further, a toolkit of core creative assets is being developed so that #AloneTogether messaging can be used by other cable, broadcast, digital, social and audio companies.

It is flexible, tailored by brand/audience, low-lift and social-first. It also is complementary to any other PSA creative.

Parkes said the initial creative was produced internally within a 24-hour period, led by the MTV Team.

Additional activations include a 24-hour music stream on YouTube of “positive music videos that can help uplift our audiences”, as well as TikTok challenges, Snapchat executions and Facebook groups.

The Ad Council’s role

The Ad Council has a long history of creating life-saving public service campaigns, especially in times of crisis, including during hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and after 9/11. Ad Council president and chief executive officer, Lisa Sherman, said the coronavirus pandemic was shaping up to be one of those moments.

The organization worked quickly with the CDC, HHS and the White House to understand what the priority messages were, “because there was so much confusion and misinformation out there", according to Sherman.

"We felt like we really needed to provide a vetted and research-based set of messaging that could really clear things up for people."

With the messages and target audiences in place, the Ad Council started to brainstorm good partners to get the word out. For the issues around social distancing and mental health, especially reaching young people, ViacomCBS seemed the perfect partner.

The Ad Council is also working with iHeartRadio to focus on social distancing in high-risk populations, and ABC Disney is concentrating on parents and families.

“Then we're working directly with the White House," says Sherman. "We're filming the surgeon general, because I think people are really looking for trusted sources, and he's that guy.

"Group SJR, a WPP agency, developed a series of scripts that any good public health official can use. So not only will the surgeon general be using that script, we've told all of our media partners: 'if you've got your own in-house talent who plays that role in the health space – whether it's Dr. Sanjay Gupta and CNN or Dr Oz on NBC – please use these scripts."

Both Parkes and Sherman are urging media and citizens alike to use the tools in the Ad Council’s toolkit to help get the right messaging out to people, because, as Parkes states, “We need the entire power of media to help drive this message home, as much as possible.

"We all have a role in this."

See The Drum's coronavirus coverage here.

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