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History Channel / Remember Where You Came From

by Contagious I/O

This story originally appeared on Contagious I/O, our intelligence tool featuring the most creative and effective ideas in marketing from around the world

TV network asks the public to help digitise Civil War era documents in a bid to promote upcoming show

Roots is a 1970s mini-series telling the story of the hardship of an enslaved African family and what it has to go through to preserve its identity. To promote its 2016 remake of the show, History Channel partnered with The Freedmen’s Bureau Project in a bid to recover real post-slavery documents and help reconnect today’s African Americans with their lost ancestors.

The partnership saw The Freedmen’s Bureau upload thousands of scanned documents from the Civil War era to a campaign microsite and then ask the public to help identify the names and dates from these papers. The Freedmen’s Bureau usually works with volunteers to digitise its database of thousands hard to decode records.

People who went on the Reading for Roots hub could transcribe details from the documents and submit them digitally. Each crowdsourced entry was then cross-referenced through The Freedmen’s Bureau Project system for accuracy and digitally archived into a searchable database.

The campaign, developed by 360i in New York, also enlisted the show’s cast to help promote the project.

The agency reports that in three weeks, the public helped transcribe more than 6,000 documents – six times more than the initial target – which let The Freedmen’s Bureau donate the entire database to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. More than 50 million viewers watched the premier of Roots, making it the most watched cable mini series premiere since 2013.


Contagious Insight / 

This counts / The partnership is a perfect way of bringing the TV show to life and giving it more relevancy in today’s day and age. While slavery is illegal in every country in the modern world, its effects – such as not being able to trace your ancestors – can still be felt. The campaign uses the power of Roots’ reach to put a spotlight on The Freedmen’s Bureau and its mission. And for those who are already fans of the story, this gives them not only a chance to sympathise with the characters, but also to take actionable steps to help solve a very real problem.

Community effort / The project counts on the wider public to reach its goal and help spread the campaign’s reach. It’s an initiative that fans have an incentive to share (encouraging others to join and help digitise the documents) which, in turn, will increase the PR value of the campaign.

We have seen a similar tactic used by Deutsche Telekom. In 2015, the telco created a free mobile game which, when played for two minutes per day, gathered valuable data that could help scientists better understand dementia.



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