Digital death, extended life

Image: Buy Life campaign

This week Alicia Keys launched an ingenuous campaign, conceived with TBWA/Chiat/Day New York, that leverages her celebrity to fund her charity, Keep A Child Alive. Like actor, Edward Norton, and his fund-raising platform Crowdrise, Alicia has enlisted the power of her celebrity to help improve the lives of children affected by AIDS in Africa and India. In her case, the campaign is especially daring in that each of the participating celebrities is dying digitally, meaning they will no longer post or tweet on Facebook or Twitter, until their fans raise $1 million to revive them and improve the lives of countless children.

This campaign is a powerful demonstration of social networking on three levels. First, Alicia has embraced her commodification as a celebrity and is leveraging her fan base to help her achieve social change. Second, the campaign is given breadth and power through her ability to reach out to her real life network of other celebrities including Kim Kadashian, Justin Timberlake, Serena Williams, Jennifer Hudson, Ryan Seacrest and Elijah Wood, who have also volunteered to “die” for the cause. Third, the campaign relies on the dynamics at play between celebrities and their fans, and between the fans themselves, in order to revive them.

The campaign demonstrates the transformative potential of social media on four levels:

1. We see brands (in this case celebrities) that benefit from social media using that exposure in meaningful ways.

2. We see fans coordinating their own actions in service of a cause based on shared values.

3. We see a powerful merger of pop culture and social transformation.

4. We see the power of social media technology at work to drive immediate change. (Take note, Malcolm Gladwell)

The campaign also demonstrates a powerful complicity by all players. The celebrities clearly recognize they have been taken to market as products (often for better or worse). The fans know they are being held to ransom (of sorts). All parties realize that the good fortune they enjoy comes with a responsibility to think of others.  In short, media savvy celebrities and consumers alike are putting that media awareness to good use.

But Keep A Child Alive is far more than a smart social media campaign. It is literally a new lease on life for children affected by AIDS. It provides them with shelter, nutrition and education to make sure the anti-retroviral medication they receive is taken properly and effectively. So on Wednesday, World AIDS day, I encourage all of us to embrace our inner fan and donate to revive the digital lives of these celebrities and the real world lives of so many more.

Do you think it’s ok for celebrities to use their appeal in this way? Do you believe that social media can become a force for good?