When North Carolina voted on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, New Kind partnered with the Coalition to Protect All North Carolina Families to fight back. We helped the Coalition wage a five-month campaign against the Amendment—inspired by open source principles and community-focused design.
In 2012, North Carolina became the thirty-first state to consider a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Amendment One was the first time North Carolina voiced its opinion on LGBT rights, and it sparked a ballot campaign and a cultural debate across the state.
The language on the ballot read:
Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.
Initial public polling placed support for the amendment well above 60 percent. More detailed internal polling put the number even higher. Against this bleak outlook, a number of groups from churches to nonprofits to LGBT rights advocates formed a diverse coalition devoted to defeating the amendment.
Community-oriented efforts cut across divisions and layers within companies and organizations—we were confident that a community-centered approach would unite our diverse partners across the state.
When we joined the campaign we were briefed on research conducted by a Washington, D.C. political consultancy. From that point forward, our market research came from being immersed in the campaign. We all lived and worked in North Carolina and were personally familiar with the political backdrop. Intensive reading, social media monitoring and conversations with Coalition partners and residents helped us understand the landscape clearly.
We knew, for example, that the marriage equality argument used in other states had little traction with North Carolina voters. Instead, our citizens were most concerned with how the amendment would affect at-risk populations like domestic violence victims and unmarried women. Above all, North Carolinians wanted to know how the amendment would affect children.
New Kind’s approach to the Amendment One campaign evolved from our understanding of the “social era.”
In the social era, citizens expect greater transparency, accountability and input—today’s public expects organizations and leaders to engage in an open dialogue and be accountable to the people they serve.
We believe organizations, including campaigns, should honor this expectation and engage with communities if they expect to succeed. This requires a more nimble, innovative approach to campaigning than a traditional, top-down model. Most of all, it requires giving communities the tools to work together toward a bold purpose.
For the Protect All NC Families campaign, we created those tools in the form of stories, symbols and airwaves.
Stories are the way we relate to each other. They are the most fundamental form of human communication and one that allows us to share information to evoke emotion and create meaning. We collected stories from the community through video, blog posts, pictures and social media.
Sharing the community’s stories helped to unite the distinct—and sometimes disparate—partners who made up our coalition. Stories helped us find common ground to connect partners who complement each other and build a campaign-wide culture of commitment and conviction.
Compelling content sparks contagious conversations—the lifeblood of powerful movements. Symbols are tangible or visible elements that help brand that content as part of a larger message. Protect All NC Families created symbols through a visual identity system that brought vitality, consistency and instant recognition to our stance on the issue.
At the heart of the identity was a simple logo—a unique letter A with “ALL” typeset in the counterspace. “ALL” was the core message—protecting ALL families. We made the files available for customization, so that anyone could fill the letter A with their own picture. This lead to thousands of Twitter and Facebook users showing their support for the movement through their own channels.
Color-wise, we chose a youthful blue that balanced two needs. One, people must recognize this blue—and the messages paired with it—as still in the political conversation; and two, people must see the color as the unique identifier of our campaign. Adding yellow as a secondary color further differentiated the identity.
Typographically, we choose families that would support the campaign’s voice: friendly, useful and smart. Anchor and Bryant provided this tone through their formal distinctions, mainly the rounded corners and open letterforms. Both faces provided us with an expansive series of weights and widths, which yielded consistency with any message. These typefaces were unique to our campaign.
Through an open source approach, we allowed supporters to customize and disseminate symbols themselves, creating a more authentic kind of outreach. This open source approach to brand design was one of our most successful tactics.
Airwaves are the communication channels we access to share stories and symbols with the community. Our airwaves combined social media, earned media, created content and curated content. They included 140 videos that attracted over 740,000 views, nearly 20,000 Facebook fans and 2,600 Twitter followers, and hundreds of blog posts on Huffington Post, the Advocate, the Washington Blade and Daily Kos.
Initial polling was dismal. Our D.C.–based polling firm anticipated we would need 535,000 votes to defeat the amendment. (In the end, we achieved 840,000 votes!)
It suggested that, like many other Southern states, North Carolina overwhelmingly opposed gay marriage. It also demonstrated that our citizens weren’t cognizant of the other effects the amendment might have.
For us, this meant that arguments for equality and civil rights wouldn’t resonate, so we had to reframe the debate. Our challenge was to demonstrate to a broad array of constituent groups that the amendment could harm not only gay couples, but also domestic violence victims, unmarried women and the children of unmarried parents. Our argument had to be strong enough to rally our entire base and convince others to change their votes.
In addition to a difficult debate and a heavyweight opposition, Protect All NC Families faced an extremely short timeframe: the entire campaign lasted barely five months. By the final weeks of the campaign, our movement had developed impressive momentum, but not enough to defeat the amendment.
Ultimately, the campaign was not able to defeat Amendment One—but the community that rose up around the issue launched a state-wide conversation around protecting the rights of at-risk populations.
We exceeded our initial voter targets: early research suggested we would need 535,000 votes to win, and Protect All North Carolina Families achieved 840,000 votes in just three months.
Here’s a snapshot of the Protect All NC Families movement:
For us, these numbers signified that the campaign was successful in its underlying mission: laying the foundation for a movement.
The Protect NC Families YouTube channel contains a wealth of information on this campaign—personal stories from the community, calls to action, as well as a short recap.
This case study is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Looking for additional ways to design for good? This list of organizations and programs is a great place to start. There are many more opportunities out there—so if you know of a resource we should add here let us know!
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