The Ad Council

The most shared video in the three-year history of viral content site Upworthy turns out to be the result of a campaign led by Coca-Cola.

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As of Friday afternoon, the clip, "Love Has No Labels," which features a giant outdoor screen showing dancing skeletons who reveal themselves to be couples of various races, faiths and genders, had been viewed nearly 40 million times on Upworthy’s Facebook page, and shared more than 1 million times.

“This was about iconic brands ‘taking off their labels’ with the idea of ‘Love Has No Labels,’” said Heidi Arthur, senior vice president for campaigns at the Ad Council, which is distributing the campaign.

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The Council, based in New York and Washington, is a nonprofit group supported that produces public service messages, usually from the government ("Smokey The Bear," "McGruff The Crime Dog, etc.), but often from other nonprofit groups and, occasionally corporations. The group has massive distribution powers, listing 163 different media and publishing partners on its website.

Coke’s president for marketing, Wendy Clark, approached the Council a year ago about the idea of having major brands come together for a spot about love and diversity that could reach a wide audience, Arthur said. Eventually Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, AllState and State Farm all agreed to financially support the campaign. Arthur declined to say how much the campaign cost, but said many resources were donated — including the song “Same Love,” which singer Macklemore signed away the rights to for the spot.

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“A lot of favors were called in,” Arthur said. “It was a much lower rate than the typical campaign.”

It's the first time that this many megabrands have come together to create an Ad Council spot, Arthur said, but they all agreed that the Council would be credited as its driving force. The only place where the companies' logos can be seen is at the bottom of the campaign's web page.

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“They had a broader message that had nothing to do with [sales],” Arthur said.

In fact, the company referred us to the Ad Council for all questions about the campaign, though they did send us a statement:

“The Coca-Cola Company wants to further promote the acceptance and understanding of all communities, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexuality, age and ability. We believe it’s important to use our voice to spread happiness and celebrate humanity. ‘Love Has No Labels’ is an expression of our support for diversity and inclusion of all people.”

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The Council tapped R/GA, a major Madison Avenue advertising firm, to produce the piece. R/GA’s Chris Northam, whose previous work includes spots for Virgin Atlantic and Land Rover, said he and his team began working on the spot in September.

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“We were scratching our heads for a long time,” about what the spot would look like, but that the focus would be on appearance being someone’s biggest label.

He said there was no “magic ingredient” that they tried to include the guarantee the clip would spread, other than to capture the couples' natural relationships.

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But as they were filming, it became clear that the crowds’ reactions to revealing what the couples actually looked like would likely be replicated by viewers.

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“There was a mood that day, such a great energy from audience, and then our fabulous cast, that really informed the edit,” he said.

Northam said there was no pressure to make sure the brands were a prominent part of the campaign.

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“I think one of the great things about this is that [the sponsors] were quite happy to take a backseat and almost become silent partners in the campaign,” he said. “The public can be quite cynical about brands attaching themselves to these kinds of causes, and what was refreshing here is that they were supporting it behind the scenes but not rushing to capitalize on the attention it’s getting.”

Iyad Hajjaj, a Palestinian living in Los Angeles who appears with his Israeli neighbor Michael Zinati Elmakayas in the piece, said they tried out in the hopes of dispelling popular notions about the conflict.

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“We basically told the producers that this is our story, that we are true friends, which is something you can’t really find in media,” he said.

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None of the corporations' logos were anywhere to be seen at the shoot, he said. They continue to keep in touch with the Christian and Indian duo, as well as the lesbian couple.

The spot has been out for less than a week, but Arthur said they have a plan to take surveys to measure its impact.

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It seems to be working.

Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.