New Tunes

In the months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Americans found solace in venerable patriotic symbols. So when the creative team at TBWA\Chiat\Day was asked to lure young adults to the voting booth, they decided to employ some recognizable American traditions—but with a fresh twist.

If there were no freedom of speech, might the lyrics to an American standard celebrate uniform thinking? In one 30-second spot titled “Camp Fire,” shot at night on the beaches of Malibu, a group of twentysomethings sit around, playing guitar and singing “America the Beautiful.” The lyrics are replaced with statements about censorship such as, “How beautiful, to never speak, or have an opinion. To disagree is dangerous and un-American.” The spot ends with text that explains, “If freedom of speech is important to you, rock the vote.”

The campaign, for Los Angeles-based Rock the Vote, broke with a limited run on MTV in May and will reach a broader audience this month as other networks donate time.

Copywriter and art director Eric King says the San Francisco office toyed with several ideas before deciding to rework the familiar songs. “We had the notion of [showing] everyone after Sept. 11 with American flags and pins,” he says. “But it wasn’t the most appropriate way to be talking about what Rock the Vote is and why people should get involved.”

The team wanted to incorporate timely issues such as the environment, civil liberties and censorship. “We wanted to do a campaign that spoke to America’s youth about things that were happening today,” King says.

One of the best ways to provoke a response from the audience, the team decided, was to use America’s anthems. “The second that they are sung, we participate without hesitation,” King says. “We thought that if we changed the words to reflect the important issues, it would force people to respond.”

Another spot features a youth chorus singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and inserting lines about civil-rights violations. Each child chimes in a different line as the song proceeds: “This country’s equal rights change if your skin’s not white, or if you’re ethnic. If you’re from foreign lands, you’re not American. Or even if you look too tan … you are suspicious.” Copy concludes, “If you care about equal rights, rock the vote.”

A third spot applies the theme to the Pledge of Allegiance. Titled “Classroom” and shot in East Los Angeles, it shows a group of elementary school students reciting the pledge, hands across their hearts. They begin in the traditional way, but by the close of the recitation, they’ve added a new angle: “We need energy independence. Get oil no matter what.” The spot closes with text that reads, “If you care about the environment, rock the vote.”

King says the campaign, which was crafted along with TBWA\C\D creative Rob Smiley (who has subsequently left the shop) and directed by Joe Pytka of Pytka & Squeak Pictures, is not just aimed at getting kids to vote. “It is really trying to raise awareness about these issues,” he says.

“When you have an opportunity to be in a project like this, you can’t turn it down,” King says. “The ultimate goal of the whole campaign … is not to do popular ads, it’s to better our world through youth involvement in these issues.”

Rock the Vote


San Francisco

Executive creative director
Chuck McBride

Creative director
Rob Smiley

Art directors/

Rob Smiley
Eric King

Executive producer
Jennifer Golub

Pam Tarr
Tara Fitzpatrick

Production company
Pytka & Squeak Pictures, Los Angeles
Joe Pytka