Unruly / Blog / Viral Review: Ad Council’s Lovely Bones Have The X(Ray)-Factor

Viral Review: Ad Council’s Lovely Bones Have The X(Ray)-Factor

This article was first published in Marketing magazine

Brand: Ad Council – ‘Diversity & Inclusion: Love Has No Labels

Rating: 9/10

The words ‘Public Service Announcement’ doesn’t exactly inspire excitement. Historically cheaply-produced, cheesy and more than a little preachy, the PSA format has the potential to spread vital information, but can fall short of capturing viewers’ hearts and minds.

Especially in the age of viral content, when emotional engagement determines more than ever how enthusiastically people share a video with their peers. For all their honourable causes and best intentions, charitable PSAs are still competing against the biggest brands and the shrewdest marketers for users’ attention.

However, a new breed of PSA is mixing up the formula with sharp, shareable content that targets hot-button issues in creative ways. The latest among these is ‘Love Has No Labels’, a heartwarming hit that premiered earlier this week and has already racked up nearly 2 million shares. Cut from the same cloth as the viral smash ‘Slap Her’, the spot from the Ad Council (the venerable institution that produced the anti-pollution ‘Crying Indian’ campaign in the 1970s) engages with homophobia, ableism and other forms of bigotry through a clever visual conceit that’s made both its YouTube and Facebook iterations extremely popular.

Performed as a public stunt, ‘Love Has No Labels’ prominently features a screen which displays only the skeletal outlines of those who stand behind it. While this sounds more than a little creepy, fear not: you’re not watching a Robbie Williams’ video. Instead the sweethearts at the Ad Council put their fancy bit of kit to boundary-busting uses. Whoever stands behind the screen – a gay couple, a multiracial family, a Christian and a Muslim – the crowd only sees what keeps them together rather than divides them: a shared humanity. Tagging on the chorus from Macklemore’s ‘Same Love’ only increases the emotional stakes, not to mention the sentiment of racial and gender equality that comes with the chart-topper.

It might sound a little corny on paper, but the spot’s accessible messaging and inventive style has hit a nerve. Curiously, it coincides with the popularity of an ad that takes a similar stylistic approach to a more conventional product. The latest spot from Disney Parks’ features popular kids’ characters obscured behind a similar screen, and ranks even higher this week on Unruly’s Viral Video Chart. Does the sudden popularity of these two ads mean we’re experiencing a micro-trend of lovable figures behind semi-translucent screens? Probably not. Rather, both ads feature a winning combination of warm emotions and authentic audience reactions that make them sharing gold.

Call it a friendlier version of ‘prankvertising’. While ‘prankverts’ have seen a surge in popularity over the last few years, they traditionally skew a little mean. And while some brands have converted strangers’ into hilarious, shareable videos, the Ad Council takes the same concept and applies it to a strategy of inclusion. Like a more family-friendly version of ‘First Kiss’, itself a covert ad, ‘Love Has No Labels’ understands that a love-positive message is sometimes all you need.

With a core concept seemingly created to inspire Upworthy articles, it’s maybe not surprising how ‘Love Has No Labels’ has spread on the social web. But the ad’s success this week shows that viral success can be as simple as a positive social message, conveyed cleverly through a format that engages the public. And it’s already worth remembering that feel-good feels good.