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How the Power of Collaborative Storytelling Inspires Action

At a moment in American culture when seemingly every issue is polarized, it’s more important than ever to share stories that will move people to take action. So how do we do that, and how do we do it right?

Since 2015, the Ad Council’s Love Has No Labels campaign has directly addressed bias, hate and discrimination. Our new “Love Lives On” short films, created by R/GA, show how individuals acted with love following instances of hate and injustice, including the murder of George Floyd (created in close collaboration with Bridgett Floyd and the George Floyd Memorial Foundation); the deadly 2016 shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub (with Barbara Poma and the onePULSE Foundation); and the rise in violence and harassment toward the Asian American and Pacific Islander community (with Maddy Park, founder of Cafe Maddy Cab).

As we reflected on the larger takeaways of the experience we shared, I asked our collaborators about the one thing they learned from this effort that they’d want to share with brands, marketers and storytellers.

Here are their responses.

Shannon Washington, R/GA: I suppose I could offer something very stoic about love, collaboration and creativity, but the one thing that I have taken from this experience is a reminder of the power of story.

Before we can even talk, our caretakers use story to ground our education and perspective of the world. Story is how we learn about who we are, and who we don’t want to be. With social good or PSA work, it’s important to connect with people where they are socially, intellectually and emotionally. Many times, we use the same mechanics of marketing to deliver a message. And then we just hammer it in. We’re talking to people but not talking with them.

With this work, we took three powerful women and their stories to create something brilliantly impactful and timeless in its simplicity. I may not have anything in common with Bridgett, Barbara or Maddy personally, but in their stories I see myself, my family and my community. And that’s the whole point.

Jacari Harris, George Floyd Memorial Foundation: "Love Lives On" is a testament to what we know can happen if all citizens within America do their part willingly. We can create a promising future for generations if we first give love and not hate, if we help the underserved instead of taking advantage of them and if we choose people over politics.

Love will keep us hoping and praying because hope is the motivator, but the dream is the driver. Love will give us the courage to speak truth to power. We must love enough to do what's necessary for our world to see real change.

Barbara Poma, onePULSE Foundation: Reflecting on my experience with the “Love Lives On” movement begins with the realization that many small voices are doing impactful work. While it calms my soul to see the ripple effects of such kindness, my challenge to everyone is to take a moment to reimagine this world by using your unique platforms to amplify stories that bring unity instead of division. The power of your choices can create a focus on the impact of goodness on all communities, but especially those that are marginalized.

Imagine the chain reaction if more people in the industry chose to shine their light on stories that demonstrate how we are more alike than different. Love is the light in the darkness, and how bright it shines depends entirely on us.

Maddy Park, Cafe Maddy Cab: One thing I realized was that all along I’d thought that I had started Cafe Maddy Cab purely from a furious reaction to the rise in hate crimes—but what had moved me to take action was the love I learned from my own family and friends.

In other words, I learned that everyone carries it within themselves the power to bring change, and it’s not a rare gift or superpower. It can often stem from a familiar place like family.

Justin Polk, director: Being able to film and get to know Bridgett, Barbara and Maddy, who have been affected by global issues at the most personal level, was nothing short of inspiring and a humbling experience to say the least.

What I learned from this journey with them is that even when you're hit with one of the worst circumstances in your life, when you lead with love—and not just any love, but a love that unites us all—you can tell stories that are bigger than all of us. The stories that really matter.

Andre Muir, director: One thing that lingers is the way a loved one sees you, the real you. George Floyd was dragged across front pages simply for being human and having flaws. His family and friends fought tooth and nail to make sure the person they saw was seen by others the same way that they saw him. They fought to show that he was a man with dignity. That his flaws were what made him human and showed the loving father, brother, son, friend and community member he was.

Part of why I took on this project is that I also have a loved one who I went through tumultuous times with, but when I look back I can only see the beauty in their life. In the same way if I’d had the chance to do that for my brother, I wanted to do that for George, because in a way he’s become a brother to all of us.

Myesha Evon Gardner, photographer: Love is necessary work where we learn to resist, lead, and thrive under any circumstance. My personal commitment remains steadfast in creating greater space for diverse stories of love through honest and accurate representation.

The new chapter of the “Love Lives On” campaign was a profound honor for me to document. In inviting the testimonies of these inspiring leaders to shine through the lens of love, affirmation and optimism, we hope to encourage others to act with similar courage and conviction.

Heidi Arthur, Ad Council: Through “Love Lives On,” we had an incredible opportunity—but an even greater responsibility—to tell real, authentic stories that have the power to change the world. Bridgett, Barbara and Maddy put a lot of trust in us to share their stories, and through this process, we were reminded how every step and decision is critical and cannot be done in a silo. It takes true collaboration and requires intentionally seeking out diverse feedback and perspectives from your audience and the communities you are trying to serve throughout the development of the work.

We relied on guidance from the individuals featured as well as issue experts and message testing among different audiences to identify any sensitive touch points or blind spots the core team may have missed. We believe this process only added to the power, emotion and impact of the final product.

This story was originally published by Ad Age. To learn more, visit


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