Whether it be Bono's RED campaign to fight AIDS or Sarah McLachlan's public service announcements about preventing animal cruelty, celebrities have long helped to raise awareness about social causes.
But to educate younger generations, the Ad Council is joining forces with Google and a few digital content companies to launch a different kind of initiative called Creators for Good.
Popular personalities on social platforms such as YouTube — Grace Helbig, the Fine Bros, iJustine and others — will develop original content around Ad Council campaigns. Digital content partners include Fullscreen, DreamWorks Animation-owned AwesomenessTV, Collective Digital Studio, DEFY Media, Disney-owned Maker Studios and StyleHaul.
"It's very clear that celebrities have helped give a voice to important issues — today we just have a new version of celebrities," Lisa Sherman, president and chief executive of the Ad Council, said last week. "Some of these social influencers have achieved absolute rock star status. They have massive followings across multiple platforms. It just made a lot of sense for us to explore partnering with them and help them use their celebrity and reach on behalf of causes they are passionate about."
The nonprofit Ad Council has more than 40 national campaigns addressing a range of issues, including autism awareness and hunger prevention. It is behind public service programs featuring Smokey Bear and the slogans "Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk" and "Love Has No Labels."
The announcement was made on Monday at a breakfast kicking off the Interactive Advertising Bureau's fourth annual Digital Content NewFronts marketplace in New York City.
The Ad Council said campaign partners will cover production costs for the video content, as well as possibly a PSA for distribution and promotion by the Ad Council.
"I think there's an opportunity for these influencers to really set fire to certain issues," Sherman said. "The number of subscribers they have is significant. ... I think we are just setting ourselves up in the best possible way because it's just one more way for us to connect with more people."
For Google, working with the Ad Council also made sense.
"Causes are very important to us. ... It's part of our DNA," said Jamie Byrne, director of content commercialization at YouTube. "Creators of all shapes and sizes have used YouTube to spread positive messages to connect with different audiences."
Many online creators have fan bases in the millions, giving the Ad Council the opportunity to tap into a wider audience.
"I think when [the causes] are contextualized through the creators that young people love, it will be extremely meaningful,"said Ezra Cooperstein, president of Fullscreen, another digital company partnering with Ad Council.
Defy Media, one of the Ad Council's partners, recently published a study that found that many 13- to 24-year-olds watch digital content because it makes them feel good about themselves.
"It's important as a YouTuber to talk about things that aren't easy," said Meghan Rienks, a 21-year-old star from the network AwesomenessTV. Rienks, who has has about 1.5 million subscribers for her YouTube channel, signed up to help do PSAs for teen dating violence prevention.
"Teens in general go to media when they are feeling alone," she said. "YouTube is a comfortable space, and viewers really feel like they get to know you. I've always used YouTube to voice issues that are personal to me. It's important to address issues that are affecting teens daily."
The roster for Creators for Good will continue to expand throughout the year, the Ad Council said. Creators will meet quarterly with the Ad Council, including a kick-off meeting in Los Angeles to precede the annual Vidcon convention in July.