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Special Project

Special Project
From the 11th Annual Shorty Awards

Can't Judge a Book

Finalist in Branded Content, Storytelling

Entered in Long Form Video, Video


Mastercard has been a sponsor of the GRAMMYs for years, tying our passion for music with music's biggest night and celebration. But, we noticed a disturbing trend. While the biggest night in music tended to focus only on the biggest celebrities and musicians, everyone was starting to look the same.

And we weren't alone. The New York Times said, "Music is changing. The GRAMMYs have failed to keep up." And the LA Times called it "an awards show notorious for privileging white guys with guitars."

For a brand that values inclusivity and acceptance, we knew we had to be different this year and do something that broke the mold of our typical GRAMMYs sponsorship.

Our ambitions were two-fold:

  1. Express our company's belief that #acceptancematters—in credit cards and in life.
  2. Raise awareness that the Mastercard brand is dynamic and modern.

Strategy and Execution

Inclusivity and acceptance are company-wide commitments at Mastercard. GRAMMYs night was a perfect opportunity to show that commitment and give new voices a chance to shine. We knew would couldn't just talk acceptance, we had to take action.

Our idea: give six emerging artists who have struggled with acceptance for a variety of reasons an opportunity to shine on music's biggest night. From a blues-guitar virtuoso who is blind to a female Filipino rapper. They shared one thing in common – an incredible passion for music despite the discrimination (racial, gender, ability, etc.) they had faced in pursuing their passion.

We teamed them up with SZA, the most nominated woman at this year's GRAMMYs, to make a multi-genre cover and music video of You Can't Judge a Book by The Cover, a song written by Willie Dixon and recorded by Bo Diddley. It was a song they could all relate to.

But because our artists were relatively unknown, we needed to first introduce them to the world before asking people to watch a music video with them. We created a short documentary and made sure they could tell their stories, firsthand. We filmed their recording sessions and interviewed each artist about their life, music, and barriers they overcame—all cut into a three-minute short.

We launched with a bang on Thursday, January 18 and premiered the documentary on Ellen DeGeneres' social channels, including her 52MM Instagram followers. We continued to promote the film across our owned channels—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube,—over the next four days leading up to the release of the music video.

Then to ensure we gave each artist dedicated air time, we cut six individual :30 documentaries so they could tell their stories, uninterrupted, across both Mastercard's social channels and their own. We targeted those videos not just to their own fans, but to those on opposite ends of the musical spectrum as well, with the intent of introducing our artists to people who would've never otherwise heard of them, their stories, or passion for music.


We set out to change the conversation and perception of Mastercard on music's biggest night and put new faces in front of music lovers across the world. The results were music to our ears.

The campaign generated 900MM impressions across TV, social, OOH. It had 49MM engagements. Over 200K song streams on Spotify. Stories in Variety, Billboard, Vice, and more. And brand-record view through rates on Twitter, which beat the platform's benchmark by 20% and was 4x higher than on Facebook.

Looking at our core objectives:

But most importantly, we gave the artists a meaningful boost in their careers.

Ruby Ibarra's social following increased by 389% in just two months. Radkey booked four opening tour dates with Jack White. William Prince's cover made #4 on Apple Music Canada's "Breaking Singer/Songwriter" playlist. And The Tracks were signed by a respected independent music label.


Video for Can't Judge a Book

Entrant Company / Organization Name

McCann New York, Mastercard

Entry Credits