Nov 21, 2018

MTV’s first midterm election campaign ‘+1 the Vote’ turned voting into a social event.

This year, young people finally showed up to the polls, breaking records for youth voter turnout in a midterm election.

The surge was marked by a wave of appeals to the country’s under-30 crowd from several brands in the lead up to the 2018 midterms. But, leveraging big data and big partnerships, MTV pioneered a way of thinking about youth voter outreach that others didn’t.

With its first midterm election campaign, dubbed “+1 the Vote,” the network sought to transform voting from a chore to a celebration of civic engagement by encouraging young people to vote with a plus-one and sponsoring celebratory voting events.

It worked. The campaign totaled more than 150 million impressions and contributed to a 20% increase in youth who said they would encourage a friend to vote.

“Young people are tuned in and they do care, but the question becomes, ‘how do I as one person provoke change?’” says Ramon Jimenez, SVP Insights & Strategy for MTV, VH1 & Logo. “The answer is do something as a collective.”

The three-month long, multi-platform effort did just that—get people together as a collective—with a registration tool to help young voters identify their unregistered friends and more than 50 sponsored parties of different sizes held across all 50 states on Election Day—capped off with the MTV Election Afterparty, a free concert and celebration of democracy at Miami Dade College.

All the fanfare wasn’t meant just to get young people to the polls, it urged them to change how they view voting altogether.

Expanding a history of engagement and encouragement.

MTV’s first foray into youth voter engagement was in the early 1990s. “Choose or Lose” spanned nearly 20 years and approached participation in elections with a “use it or lose it” message about how young people lose when they sit out an election. Future efforts, including “Power of 12” in 2012 and “Elect This” in 2016, were short-lived, as low youth turnout persisted.

“If you think of traditional voting campaigns, there's a lot of ‘voting is important’ and ‘show up on election day,” says Jimenez. “Young people right now don't need that. It's more about how do we help them.”

This year, MTV decided to focus on data to develop a campaign that would resonate. The brand focused on youth’s increased engagement and susceptibility to social pressure with the rise of social media, as well as research conducted by #VoteTogether and Columbia University Professor Donald Green that shows parties at the polls lead to a 4% increase in voter turnout.

“There are a lot of data points around how our audience is paying close attention to social issues,” explains Maxwell Zorick, director of social impact for MTV, VH1 & Logo. “Young people are hyper-aware of what is happening in the country and nervous about the future of the country.”

"We know our audience is always engaging with and nudging their friends, so why can't they do that to promote civic engagement. "

Survey data from MTV/AP-NORC showed that half of young Americans were thinking about the 2018 midterm elections several months in advance of November, and 63% said that voting in the 2018 midterms would allow their generation to effect real change in the government. But, less than a quarter of young voters were confident they had enough information about the candidates to make an informed choice.

MTV saw an opportunity to connect that sense of hope and renewed political interest with what they saw in the data about social pressure, lack of information, and the efficacy of celebration. The brand also knew that getting droves of young voters to the polls would require first meeting them where they are—online.

“We know our audience is always engaging with and nudging their friends, so why can't they do that to promote civic engagement,” explains Zorick.

Tools to connect the country’s youngest voters.

With the launch of the “+1 the Vote” campaign came the launch of a first-of-its-kind digital experience that enabled young people to register to vote and activate unregistered friends to join them at the polls on Election Day. The tool appealed to the audience’s social media obsession and presented an opportunity for social pressure.

Jimenez explains, “MTV didn't need to patronize our audience. They know that voting is important. They're very engaged. That's why our angle was not to just encourage them to vote, but to give them ways to register and ways to engage those around them.”

The network invited users to plan ahead for Election Day with several online resources for their digital native audience including options to view their sample ballot and find their polling place on MTV News created an interactive election map profiling candidates under 30 and activists across the country, and launched an explainer video series that featured celebrities breaking down the importance of the midterm elections.


The campaign also included celebrity PSAs that encouraged youth to register and vote with a friend by highlighting iconic friendships from across Viacom brands, including MTV's Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi and Jenni "JWOWW" Farley, VH1's Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart, and Comedy Central's Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer.

The result? Sixty-six percent of those who heard of MTV’s “+1 the Vote” campaign said they would try to encourage a friend to vote on Election Day. Plus, early exit polls show 31% of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 made it to the polls this election cycle—a 10% increase on turnout in 2014 and the highest rate of youth voter turnout in midterms in the last two decades.

We’re going to party like it’s Election Day.

More than 2,000 fans, talent, and press attended the Election Afterparty at Miami-Dade College’s Kendall campus gymnasium, an event to honor all the youth voting events that were happening across the country on Election Day. The night included free food and performances by Fat Joe, Ashanti, PRETTYMUCH, Lauren Jauregui, and DJ Nasty. A custom gif booth allowed fans to post on social media against a backdrop of the “+1” branding. Plus, an on-site voter registration area provided non-registered attendees an opportunity to sign-up for the next election.

“You can see that there are sort of historical connections to this idea of celebratory voting,” says Angie Jean-Marie, director of Civic Nation’s #VoteTogether, a national initiative partnering with MTV that aims to make voting community-driven and celebratory. “In the very early years of our democracy, people came together and they celebrated voting. Over the last few decades, you've seen it become much less about community and much more about the individual and their civic obligation and civic duty.”

Young people want to be part of a tangible community. Viacom Velocity’s Culture of Proximity 2.0 study revealed 95% of people say “being immersed in a shared event experience was one of the most amazing moments of my life.”

“I think this is something that's extremely needed,” says Jonathan Flores, a program coordinator at Miami Dade College’s Institute for Civic Engagement and Democracy. “Everybody likes celebrating holidays, birthdays, all these things that we spend money on and there's decorations for, so why don't we do this for voting too?”

And, it doesn’t look like that celebratory spirit is going anywhere anytime soon.

“There is also sort of a cyclical effect that these events can have,” explains Jean-Marie. “If you have a positive first voting experience that looks like it's something that brings your community together, that your parents and your grandparents are doing together, that your friends are doing with you, we believe that you will be more likely to take action and do it again in the future.”