With an audience comprised of mostly millennials and Gen Z-ers, traditional marketing tactics don’t always apply at Freeform. Especially when promoting a documentary about gun violence.
But Freeform executives knew its highly engaged audience could relate to the personal stories in For Our Lives: Parkland, which focuses on the survivors of the February 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The documentary—a co-production with ABC News’ Nightline—airs Monday, April 30, at 10 pm ET on Freeform.
The idea for the documentary was sparked during a conversation between Freeform president Tom Ascheim and Tricia Melton, SVP, marketing and creative branding at Freeform.
“We were talking about how impactful Parkland has become to our audience, and how the students have truly mobilized and become sort of accidental activists,” Melton says. “We came to the conclusion that we should address this. Our programming and development teams got involved, and Emily [Brandon, Freeform’s senior manager of digital and partnership marketing] reached out as a first step to ATTN: because they’re so perfectly aligned in terms of their approach to issues and their ability to really connect with this audience across social platforms.”
As a media company specializing in distilling difficult subjects and societal issues into compelling videos that work across all platforms, ATTN: was a good fit. Especially since explainer videos — spanning topics such as current gun laws, semi-automatic weapons and the importance of voting — were key to the plan.
“We did these great videos with Elaine Welteroth [host of the special and former editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue],” says Brad Haugen, a partner at ATTN:. “We take one, cut it and then distribute it on social. We’re going to make cut-downs for talent to share as well. These are really strong assets. And the beauty of social—especially with this audience—is they engage so quickly. We cut down a trailer last week for our Instagram page and got 175,000 views, organically, from that. There’s a real hunger for this.”
Whether it’s 10-second cuts for Instagram Stories and SnapChat, 60-second interstitial spots or some other length, all versions of the four core explainer videos are designed to generate awareness, offer bite-sized nuggets of factual information and fuel conversations.
Brandon found the “Idealism into Action” clip extremely moving.
“It goes through the storied history of teens and high school students making real change in our country over time. It covers several different youth movements,” she says.
On-air and social campaigns launched a week ahead of the documentary’s air-date, taking full advantage of Freeform’s sister and parent companies. Having celebrities and influencers amplifying messages and share clips is a critical piece of this quickly-mobilized content marketing strategy.
“We have cross-promotions with our ABC News counterparts, including GMA and Nightline, that will include social and on-air,” Brandon says. “And through the Disney portfolio we have support from Babble. And we’re activating our talent. We also have social support that includes TurboVote and It Gets Better.”
Melton recounts a recent evening when talent from Freeform’s Famous in Love were in the office live-tweeting along with their latest episode.
“We had promo for the Parkland special in the show and the room went silent,” Melton says. “Immediately after that they were so supportive and happy that we were doing this special and addressing this subject. They wanted to be part of helping us promote it. It was a really nice, organic moment.”
Haugen points out another advantage of this strategy: “We’re educating people and getting them to tune in, but the conversation won’t stop Monday night after this airs. These explainers can continue to get socialized and they’ll still be relevant. They’re almost not marketing pieces, in a way. They’re content.”