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Special Project

Special Project
From the 13th Annual Shorty Awards

Digitizing Black History, Before It’s Too Late

Gold Honor in Consumer Brand


We are living in a world where relationships are increasingly superficial and we yearn for deeper connection, even within our own families. Ancestry helps people form a more complete sense of identity and sense of belonging by bringing people closer to their family, past and present.

Ancestry sought out Freethink to spark an interest in family history, spark meaningful conversations and encourage an exploration of one’s past and connection to history. To reach a target younger female audience, Ancestry wanted to align the brand with a culturally trending topic, in a way that was authentic and compelling.


Strategy and Execution

The Black Lives Matter movement was in full force during the desired timeline. To tie Ancestry to a powerful cultural moment in time, Freethink interweaved the story of a young woman's search for family history, the political nature of African American genealogy, and Ancestory's hero product into a powerful story that connected the past and future. 

For people of African descent, the legacy of slavery has made it particularly difficult to go deep into genealogy research. Cemeteries, however, provide a way forward. Eden Century is the first black cemetery company in the United States and is an important repository for the history of Philadelphia’s African- American community. Freethink produced a documentary spotlighting how Ancestry is an essential, digital tool in the preservation of African American genealogy and American history. Historians and researchers are racing to turn Eden's analog records into searchable digital images on Ancestry. Through the story of an actual Ancestry user, we see how Eden's records and Ancestry digital records lead her to discover a major surprise in her family tree: an almost forgotten hero of civil rights.

By showcasing Ancestry product through the context of African American genealogy, cultural legacy, and technological innovation, we were able to to attract new audiences for the brand while generating a latent curiosity for personal usage. 

Custom and robust distribution was planned to make sure this content would be seen and shared. A 12-person publishing team optimized SEO tactics, tested social media copy, series art, cut-downs and clips across social media, partner publications, newsletters, and online communities-- constantly fine-tuning promotional strategies until success was met. 


This video boasted 1million views, with over 20% of those views being completed views. This means that 209,000 viewers engaged with the Ancestry brand for 7-minutes, uninterrupted-- an incredible accomplishment in an attention-deficient media landscape notorious for 30-second videos.  

The relatable main character and compelling storyline stroke a chord with viewers, prompting over 8,700 social engagements (including comments, shares and reactions), beating expectations. The quality and depth of comments were particularly positive and thoughtful, including people sharing their own family history journeys and several requests on how viewers could explore their own family history. There was little to no mention of the video being an "ad". The millennial segment of audience also contributed to the highest video completion rate out of all demographics across several platforms, proving that the video succeeded in down-aging Ancestry's audience reach. 

The overall runaway success of the video indicated a huge new opportunity for Ancestry to use the power of original video programming to reach new audiences and refresh its brand in a culturally relevant way. 


Video for Digitizing Black History, Before It’s Too Late

Entrant Company / Organization Name

Freethink Media, Ancestry


Entry Credits