TikTok Star Charli D’Amelio and P&G Create Dance Challenge for Social Distancing

It's now the 15-year-old's most-watched video on the platform

A screenshot of Charli D'Amelio's TikTok video and the #DistanceDance logo
Charli D'Amelio stars in P&G's #DistanceDance donation campaign to raise awareness about social distancing. P&G
Headshot of Diana Pearl

Key insights:

If marketers want to reach a Gen Z audience, there’s no better platform than TikTok.

The video-sharing app is rapidly growing in popularity—as of the end of 2019, it had been downloaded 1.5 billion times—chiefly among younger users: 41% of those on the app are between the ages of 16 and 24.

So to connect with a Gen Z audience for a campaign encouraging social distancing, as well as raising money for those impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, CPG conglomerate Procter & Gamble reached out to the unofficial Queen of TikTok, 15-year-old Charli D’Amelio, to choreograph a dance that would be the focal point of the initiative, dubbed #DistanceDance.

It all began with a call two weeks ago from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine to P&G CEO David Taylor, who asked for the company’s help in encouraging Ohioans to stay home amid the ongoing crisis. Taylor then turned to P&G’s chief brand officer, Marc Pritchard, who in turn reached out to Grey Group to design the concept.

“For us, the question really became, ‘How do we deliver this message in a way that this particular target can engage with it, and find them in places where they are naturally spending time with a message that they will engage in and internalize the guidance?'” Debby Reiner, Grey’s president of global brands, told Adweek.

If you want to find Gen Z, you go to TikTok, particularly to D’Amelio, who just became the most popular user on the platform with over 46 million followers and counting. Kenny Gold, Grey’s director of social media for North America, said D’Amelio was their first choice, and that she showed “immediate interest” in the campaign and “saw the power of the idea and the ability to help through her channel.”

D’Amelio, who is famous for her short-form dances on the platform, choreographed a new dance set to Jordyn, Nic Da Kid and Yung Nnelg’s song “Big Up’s,” which features lyrics that are fitting for the moment, like “Why you so negative,” and “Inhale, exhale, breathe slow, rewind.” The dance was entirely D’Amelio’s creation, from the song to the moves.

“We wanted it to feel as authentic as possible to Charli, that’s why she choreographed it,” said Gold. “If we were going in there and telling her exactly what to do, that wouldn’t have worked for the channel.”

With a following like D’Amelio’s, every video is seen by millions, but it received an extra boost in the form of donated paid media from TikTok itself after the company learned about the intention of P&G’s initiative. In just a week since the dance’s debut, it has accumulated 187.3 million views—a massive number, even for someone with as large of a following as D’Amelio’s. It’s now her most-viewed video ever on the platform.

As is the norm on TikTok, when a user as influential as D’Amelio posts a dance, countless users rush to recreate it. In that vein, P&G promised donations to two nonprofits, Feeding America and Matthew25, for the first 3 million videos uploaded to the platform tagged #DistanceDance. So far, there are 1.6 million original videos, with a collective 5.9 billion views.

The #DistanceDance is just getting started. The social distancing message, of course, is one that needs to resonate across generations, not just with Gen Z. And for marketers looking to connect with Gen X, Millennials or Baby Boomers, TikTok is not the optimal platform.

That’s why, according to Gold, they’re planning to take the #DistanceDance to other platforms and evolve the sharing method. For example, on Twitter, people are accustomed to retweets and likes, rather than recreating posts for their own accounts, so that may be a more fitting metric. And as well-known as D’Amelio is among Gen Z, she’s not as familiar to those age 30 and up—so viewers “might start to see some new voices” on new platforms to spread the word.

“The more we’ve traveled towards the apex of this, the more this message needs to get out there,” Gold said. “The plan is to let it ride.”

What won’t change, however, is that the #DistanceDance will always be centered around the dance itself. And at its core, Gold said they don’t want the challenge to feel like an advertising campaign, but rather an organic online movement.

“If brands want to communicate right now, they have to be humans, they have to be honest and they have to be helpful,” he said. “We’ve been dogmatic about not making it a marketing message. We’re going to see if brands understand how they can help and really be human in this time where humanity and empathy is more important than ever before.”

@dianapearl_ diana.pearl@adweek.com Diana is the brand marketing editor at Adweek and managing editor of Brandweek.