Ancestry is the leader in helping people discover the richness and depth of their family’s history through DNA testing and genealogical research. But many Black Americans face challenges as knowledge of their family’s history and origins were unjustly and brutally erased due to slavery. Consequently, many in the Black community believe the hurdles are too great to make many meaningful family history discoveries.
Recently, Ancestry digitized—and made searchable—over 3.5 million documents from the Freedmen’s Bureau, the Civil War-era federal agency established to help formerly enslaved people transition from slavery to citizenship. For the first time, these records allow people to easily research their ancestors’ lives before 1870—giving families a more complete picture of their past.
Embracing the Ancestry brand promise of “bringing families closer together,” our objective was to create an integrated brand awareness campaign to attract new, diverse audiences and increase site traffic and product consideration. We measured this through a custom brand lift study and increased visits to the Ancestry Black Family History landing page, where the collection of Freedmen’s Bureau and Freedman's Bank records can be accessed.
Ancestry needed to tell a powerful and culturally relevant story that would resonate with all Americans while directly dispelling product misconceptions to diverse audiences and highlighting the discoveries Ancestry can unlock for all. To do this, we chose the 150-year-old story of formerly enslaved Hawkins Wilson.
Sold away from his family as a boy, a newly freed Hawkins Wilson wrote the Freedmen’s Bureau desperately seeking to reunite with his family. Those letters were never delivered, and his story, like many others, was suspended in time – until now.
By tracing the lineage from Hawkins to his living descendants today, as well as those of Hawkins's lost relatives, Ancestry told their ancestor’s incredible journey and reunited a family torn apart by slavery.
Ancestry and Paramount brought this story to life through a full-length documentary film, A Dream Delivered: The Lost Letters of Hawkins Wilson. This 30-minute documentary followed Hawkins Wilson’s descendants as host Anthony Anderson, historian Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and genealogist Nicka Sewell-Smith reveal his remarkable story, culminating in the emotional reunion of a family torn apart by slavery.
Long-form content allowed audiences to join in this journey, empathizing with the struggle many Black Americans face uncovering their family history while discovering Ancestry’s unparalleled ability to help bring families together.
Anchored by a launch around the Juneteenth national holiday, the campaign media strategy leveraged digital, social, and streaming platforms to drive awareness of this important cultural discovery, resulting in earned coverage across top-tier broadcast morning shows, podcasts, general news, entertainment, and Black culture and lifestyle outlets.
The digital distribution included CBS News and YouTube, with streaming launches via a CBSNews live stream on Paramount+ and PlutoTV. Film trailers ran across Paramount's linear and social platforms and an outdoor billboard in Times Square, all driving audiences to the film.
We engaged social audiences through relevant content highlighting Juneteenth, including a custom MTV ‘Need to Know’ episode featuring film talent discussing the importance of Black history.
Finally, editorial coverage, including appearances from film host Anthony Anderson on TODAY, GMA, and CBS Mornings, drove mass reach, motivating audiences to watch the film. Influencer collaborations across social platforms amplified this coverage.
The campaign garnered nearly 2 billion impressions across all platforms, including 50+ million earned social impressions and 1.8MM+ film views across social platforms.
But more impressive, consideration lifts against diverse audiences were seen through 1) an 800% increase in site traffic to Ancestry’s Black History page, almost doubling the time spent on-page; 2) a Meta brand lift study resulting in a +13.9pt lift with African American audiences as “a brand you would consider buying from;” and 3) a Dynata brand study reinforced these lifts showing a 23% increase in consideration.
This campaign showcased branded content's impact when both creative and media strategies are built around relevance. By using long-form content to tell this important story, Ancestry created new media real estate across streaming platforms to reinforce brand messaging. Combined with an authentic launch around Juneteenth, audiences received this strategy incredibly well, with 90%+ favorable social sentiment.
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