In a dark, post-apocalyptic world where ‘democracy is dead’, an elderly Orlando Bloom and Katy Perry broadcast a PSA into the past to implore Americans to call their senators in support of the For the People Act, a sweeping voter protection bill facing an uphill battle in the Senate.
The Senate vote on the For the People Act – an anti-gerrymandering bill intended to support and expand voting rights for Americans – is fast approaching. With the prospects of its passage looking less than sunny, the bipartisan anti-corruption interest group RepresentUs has launched a new campaign urging Americans to call their senators and take action to support the bill’s passing.
“The For the People Act is the most important democracy legislation since the Civil Rights Act passed in 1965,” says Joshua Graham Lynn, co-founder of RepresentUs. Graham Lynn claims that while 71% of Americans support the bill, only 20% have heard of it. “The vision of this campaign is to help change that by inspiring Americans of all walks of life to learn about this crucial legislation, call their senator and tell them to pass the For the People Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Act.”
In the new spot, ‘Transmission from the future’, Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom are reimagined as elderly folks in a post-apocalyptic setting where they are in hiding from a surveillance state. From the belly of a bunker in the year 2055, they transmit a PSA into the past – Americans’ screens in 2021 are interrupted by the bedraggled couple, who urge viewers to take action to protect democracy. “You are our only hope,” the elderly Bloom rasps. “The America you know doesn’t exist in our future. Democracy is dead.” Perry interjects, saying, “It started when voter suppression ran wild all over America. The voting rights bills died in the Senate. Polling places closed. We lost our right to vote.” The stars implore Americans to call their senators and voice their support for the For the People Act.
Envisioning an extreme future to avoid the mistakes of the past
Originally introduced in 2019 by Maryland Democrat John Sarbanes, the bill’s provisions comprise expanded voting rights (including same-day voter registration in all states for federal elections), improved election security measures, a new public campaign financing fund, restrictions on foreign lobbying and regulations intended to mitigate gerrymandering by employing independent commissions to draw district lines within every state.
RepresentUs hopes that with ‘Transmission from the future’ Americans will feel compelled to act. Graham Lynn believes the creative does a good job of conveying the message. “Politics is too often about trying to explain things to voters in logical terms,” he says. “This creative breaks through the noise by tapping into emotion – by showing people an extreme but perhaps not too far off vision of what could be if we don’t pass robust reforms and protect our democracy for future generations.”
To bring the campaign to life, Dini Von Mueffling Communications brought RepresentUs together with creative cooperative Oxcart Assembly. Last year, during the 2020 election, the team launched ‘Dictators’, a daring campaign leveraging deepfake technology. “With the recent voting rights law in Georgia and the imminent threat of voter restrictions, and the upcoming Senate vote of perhaps the most important federal legislation of our lifetime ... we needed to follow up with something even bigger,” says von Mueffling.
Oxcart Assembly co-founder and creative director Jeff Jetton – who has been involved in various eyebrow-raising creative political campaigns, including a controversial activation involving Wall Street’s Charging Bull – says the biggest challenge of creating ‘Transmission from the future’ was toeing the line between an imagined world and a potentially not-so-distant reality. “We didn’t want time travel to feel kitschy, but instead wanted the concept to serve as a way of displaying what could happen if urgent bills like the For the People Act don’t pass,” he says. “Portraying Katy and Orlando as older versions of themselves showed that no matter who you are, political decisions have real-world consequences in the present and for future generations. Ultimately our future selves will pay the price for the decisions being made today.”
Looking to an old favorite for new inspiration
Oxcart Assembly’s expertise in the arena of special effects helped to bring the creative together. Jetton notes that the team drew inspiration from a scene in V for Vendetta in which V cuts into CCTV feeds, which he says sparked the notion of “bringing the ‘interruptions’ idea to OOH in big ways”. The sci-fi feel of the campaign, he says, is inspired by the likes of Interstellar, Time Bandits and Robert Zemekis’ Contact – for which Oxcart co-founder Tony Gardner designed the specialty wardrobe and effects. Gardner not only spearheaded the special effects for the new campaign, but also the make-up for Perry and Bloom – he’s best known for creating the Geico Caveman as well as for his work on films including Zombieland, Hairspray and The Addams Family.
To activate the campaign, Oxcart Assembly is leaning into the theme of interrupted broadcasts in its tactics. To create a kind of ‘universal broadcast’ like the one seen in the hero film, Oxcart Assembly is planning a coordinated ‘interruption’, where Perry and Bloom will simultaneously share the spot on social media, RepresentUs ‘breaks into’ the feeds of various influencers and celebrities, and Times Square, NASDAQ and Reuters billboards all alight with the synchronized message. “We’re hoping it seems hyper-realistic, like it is actually happening at the moment,” says Jetton.
The prospects of passing the For the People Act
One would be remiss not to note that this may be an uphill battle for RepresentUs and other interest groups hoping to influence the passage of the For the People Act. Since March of this year, nearly 400 bills designed to restrict voting rights have been introduced in 48 US states – most memorably in Georgia and Texas, where such bills were denounced by both Democratic lawmakers and countless Americans who voiced their opinions on social media and in protests across the country. The Texas law was blocked by state Democrats, but the Georgia bill passed – though the For the People Act as well as the John Lewis Voting Rights Bill could potentially overturn it.
As it stands, the For the People bill has not garnered much support from Republican members of the Senate, and with a split Senate (and Democratic Vice-President Kamala Harris set to break a split vote) the Democrats would have to ensure all members vote in support of the bill in order to win the majority vote and pass the bill. Earlier this month, however, Joe Manchin, the Democrat from West Virginia, announced he would not be voting in support of the For the People Act.
In a pointed move, ‘Transmission from the future’ includes a clip of real news in which Joe Manchin is discussing his opposition to the bill on CBS’s Face the Nation. And RepresentUs’s Graham Lynn remains optimistic. “It’s never too late,” he says. “Senators change their stance all the time.” And his instincts may be right: reports from the past few days indicate that perhaps Manchin has not yet put to bed the possibility of voting in support of the bill. Rolling Stone reported Monday that senators may be mobilizing to make amendments to the proposed legislation in order to win over Manchin’s favor.
“This process is unfolding as we expected,” says Graham Lynn. “We expect that with enough public pressure and enough Americans telling the Senate what they really want, we will see Manchin and the rest of Congress do what is right and pass the For the People Act – or at least the most important pieces. An ad like this galvanizes the public.”