Ad Council uses Pro Bowl Kiss Cam to challenge bias for Valentine's Day

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Third chapter of "Love Has No Labels" celebrates diversity and survivors in Orlando.

The Kiss Cam has been a reliable downtime distraction at sporting events for decades. To celebrate Valentine's Day 2017, the Ad Council has turned the gimmick into a celebration of unbiased love for the third chapter of its award-winning "Love Has No Labels" campaign, created by R/GA.

An integrated campaign launching today centers on "Fans of Love," a two-and-a-half minute video filmed live at the NFL Pro Bowl. The video shows the Kiss Cam starting in predictable fashion, with a camera searching for a couple to display inside a heart on the scoreboard. The first couple, a man and a woman, turns out to be a ruse: the man turns and kisses the man to his right, and the crowd cheers.

More surprising pairs are chosen: a heterosexual interracial couple, a lesbian interracial couple, a pair of friends with Down syndrome, a racially mixed family, a lesbian couple that includes a woman wearing an "Orlando survivor" T-shirt. Each time, the crowd reacts with cheers and applause. 

After the unscripted moments in the stands, the video features shots of the couples overlaid with interviews about their relationships. "Love is about who you are, not what you are," says the Orlando shooting survivor. A woman in an interracial relationship adds, "Our love is greater than anyone's hate." The video is set to the song "Show Me Love" by Hundred Waters. 

The campaign is about "helping people self reflect on their own unconscious bias and making people feel they can be part of the solution," said Heidi Arthur, head of campaign development at the Ad Council. The Kiss Cam effort "was another great moment to give people a way to emotionally connect with this message."

That message was first delivered in a 2015 PSA shot in Santa Monica, Calif. For that video, R/GA erected a giant screen that displayed X-rays images of couples kissing. The couples then stepped out from behind the screen to reveal themselves as interracial or same-gender, forcing the audience to confront their own assumptions about them. The spot became the first PSA to win an Emmy award and has amassed more than 220 million views. 

R/GA partnered with the NFL to capture the footage at the all-star game at the Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla., on Jan. 29. "Pro Bowl is such a perfect event for this," said Chris Northam, group executive creative director at R/GA. "The game itself is a celebration. You don't have two separate sides competing, you have a mixing pot of the entire NFL fan base, gathered in one location, separate from the playoffs and all that drama, getting together to enjoy the true essence of the sport in good spirit and good faith."

"The fact that it was in Orlando adds its own social context," said Northam, referring to the 2016 mass shooting at local gay club Pulse. "All of these social contexts come to bear and are an important part of this message."

Two production crews from the NFL and Tool of North America used nine cameras to capture the crowd's candid reactions. "Essentially we had four minutes to get three minutes of footage," said Northam. While Kiss Cam moments in some sporting events are staged for comedic effect, the R/GA team stayed true to the surprise element, prepping only one member of the family or couple to capture the reactions and broadcast on the stadium screen.

"We were looking for diverse people, like we did in the first one, but also people who had a story that was interesting," said Eric Jannon, group executive creative director, R/GA, of the casting. Indeed, the post-Kiss Cam footage of the couples reflecting on their love for one another added a dash of real-life sentiment, he said. "The husband only told us one line, 'I don't see a wheelchair, I see the love of my life.' When people tell you that, it's emotional. It's a story by itself. We were looking for incredible human beings with true stories."

As diversity has become a common theme in advertising, with brands such as Coca-Cola and Airbnb taking up the mantle in their Super Bowl commercials, the Ad Council has seen an increase in the level of corporate support for "Love has no labels." The council estimates that the campaign has received more than $44 million in donated media since its 2015 introduction. 

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