Musings of a PR Professional

Rock the Vote: A communicaiton strategy for social change

I think that anyone would be hard pressed to find a young  adult who does not remember the Rock the Vote campaign from the 2004 presidential election. You couldn’t turn on your TV without seeing a commercial featuring P Diddy telling young adults why they should vote or Paris Hilton wearing a little Rock the Vote graphic tee in a hip magazine ad. But what is important about the Rock the Vote campaign is that it worked, and it is memorable.

Bar the fact that Rock the Vote has been around for 20 or so years, most young people had not heard about it until 2004 when the initiative decided to up the ante and really use pop culture and mainstream and online media to connect with young people. Their goal: Get young people to the polls. Rock the Vote did a lot to empower young people politically in 2004, but what they did that I think really worked was connect with young adults on their level. They used the media channels that young people were using, held events like concerts that young adults would want to attend, got “hot” celebrities to endorse their cause, and sold merchandise. While these are not terribly innovative ideas, this strategy was new in the sense that no one had ever made politics and voting cool before. Celebrities, MTV, blogging, and more made voting the it thing to do. That’s social change if I’ve ever seen it because it WORKED. You can check out Rock the Vote’s 2004 Youth Vote Results here, but here are the highlights:

  • Among 18-24 year olds, turnout was up 11 points to 47 percent.
  • Among 18-29 year olds, turnout was up 9 points to 49 percent.
  • More than 20 million votes were cast by 18-29 year olds, and 11.6 million were cast by 18-24 year olds, both up sharply from 2000.

So what can we learn from Rock the Vote, especially during the 2004 election? The best way to reach people is by engaging them through channels and messages they like and will respond to. Because let’s be honest, I’ll look at an ad about voting a lot longer if its Kim Kardashian or Zac Efron and not some random person. Don’t fight pop culture if it can work for you- Rock the Vote used it to create social change and they were successful. Keep up the good work!



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