‘It Gets Better’ Campaign Launched in Wake of Teen Suicides

In response to the suicides of five gay teenagers within the last three weeks, sex-advice columnist and gay activist Dan Savage launched the “It Gets Better” campaign on Sept. 23.  The ItGetsBetterProject YouTube channel features nearly 500 videos; primarily of gay men and women describing their harassment and ridicule.

In the wake of 15-year-old Billy Lucas’ suicide, Savage asked this question on  his blog:

Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now. We don’t have to wait for permission to let them know that it gets better. We can reach these kids.

The videos are intended to remind their young homosexual, bisexual and transsexual viewers that, amidst the bullying, there is hope and help.  Currently, the channel is YouTube’s second most popular in September with 11,465 subscribers. Additionally, a growing number of celebrities, including  Ciara, Nicki Minaj, Eve, Neil Patrick Harris, Lance Bass, Perez Hilton, Michel Urie and Jay Manuel have recorded their own videos of encouragement for the cause.

Savage’s campaign was timely and reactive by nature. It lacked the preparation, budget and time allotted for traditional campaigns; the absence of which, I believe, contributes to its authenticity. Despite this, the project lacks cohesion.  Apart from the YouTube channel, no Website has been created to further the message and encourage action. The YouTube channel provides “other resources” that direct viewers to related sites promoting similar messages. Though the campaign has received significant media attention and Internet dissemination, the lack of updating will cause the message to quickly fade.

To contribute to the inconsistency, the celebrity videos cannot be found on a uniform site. Some are listed on the MTV Website while others are posted to the celebrities’ individual YouTube channels; causing a disruption in the accessibility of the videos and rupturing the cohesion of the campaign.

How do you feel about the “It Gets Better” project’s campaign tactics? Though the purpose was to create and disseminate the message immediately to prevent suicides, what could Savage have done to create a more cohesive campaign? Or do you believe the campaign was successful simply by its existence?

Here are a few links to the relevant pages provided on the campaign’s YouTube channel:





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14 Responses to ‘It Gets Better’ Campaign Launched in Wake of Teen Suicides

  1. pperryve says:

    I think that the message of the campaign is wonderful and important and imperative. I agree that it is decentralized and arguably unorganized but I think that it sort of works for this type of messaging The campaign has a huge presence, in so many different places. I think it’s organic and lends itself well to such an important message. I’m not sure that the disorganization detracts from the idea.

  2. kmcasey1 says:

    The campaign was successful but there is room for improvement. A Website is a great suggestion, that way everyone could find information in one place instead of sorting through 500 YouTube videos. I think that the series of videos were successful with the people they reached, but I have to wonder how did people know how to find these videos? Celebrities making videos helped the campaign reach more people because celebs bring more media hits. The campaign has the potential to grow exponentially. It’s nice to see MTV promoting the videos because the young demographic watches MTV across the nation. I agree that the absence of a strategic plan contributes to the video’s authenticity and makes it more personal. Since the ads are so casual and down to earth they can be more effective. This campaign has great intentions and I hope ifthelps suffering kids everywhere.

  3. sbfogel says:

    I think that a purely reactive campaign such as this one (or the Haiti relief effort,for example) has one main goal … to educate and help a specific group of people. The “It Gets Better” project has a target audience and has successfully rallied to send them messages of hope and happiness for the future. Celebrity involvement is a huge bonus in this massive campaign effort, and utilizing YouTube is great in expanding the viral market as well.

    That said, the campaign could definitely improve. With a more specific objective and timeline the “It Gets Better” team could have created a Website, a group help forum and real-world testimonials. Social media would have been a powerful tool as well. This campaign is a phenomenal effort and I truly believe that if it has helped even one person, it is a win.

  4. kzinn says:

    This is a great post bringing light to a campaign that is widespread at the time. I believe, personally, that the campaign has been successful due to the big names of the celebrities that are backing it. These people hold a carry weight not only in the gay community, but in society itself. That is what helps make their messages incredibly impactful. While I knew little about the details of the actual suicides, I became aware of the campaign via Twitter which is where, I am assuming, most people did as well. For that reason, I see it as incredibly successful in that it was so widespread. However, as you’ve mentioned, there are some flaws in the system. While unrehearsed and sporadic help with the genuine tone of the videos, it also makes finding and relating to them difficult from a PR perspective. In my personal opinion, consistency is a key to success and because they’ve attached a campaign name and slogan to this I believe that being consistent will be the only way to achieve the ample amount of success that this campaign deserves.

  5. jhickam says:

    I think this campaign is a long overdue and an amazing effort. When I was in high school, two boys committed suicide together during my sophomore year. While I did not know either boy, it still greatly affected the school. There were rumors that the reason they committed suicide was because they were both gay and didn’t know how to handle it. Though this was unconfirmed, if it was true then maybe a resource like the “It Gets Better Campaign” would have given them hope. I do agree that the campaign needs some cohesion, such as a Website, but I also think that Savage tapped into a tribe waiting to happen, which he probably wasn’t expecting. I’m sure we will see increased organization happening soon because it has quickly become clear that this is an important topic that has had an audience waiting for it.

  6. slarsonm says:

    I think this is a great campaign and an issue that needs to be addressed. The immediacy of the issue prompted quick action and the “It Gets Better Campaign” focused on the issue. However, from a PR standpoint, if the campaign wanted to maintain momentum and grow, then there needs to be a foundation.

    Celebrity endorsements are wonderful, but if they are sporadic across the Internet, who can find them? The key to any campaign is building a foundation, and all the pieces are there, except a single portal to transmit all the information.

    A similar campaign to this one was launched in Australia this past week. Because of the high number of suicides in Australia, they created R U OK Day on Oct. 7. They had their celebrity endorsements in Hugh Jackman and Simon Baker, but they also had multiple resources and a call-to-action for people participating in the campaign. (see: http://www.ruokday.com)

    I think the idea behind the campaign is really important, and if it creates a strong foundation, the idea will blossom and more people will catch on.

    • lrstarr says:

      I agree. This is the start of something. But now “it gets better” headlines can be seen all across YouTube, and not just on relevant videos. YouTubers everywhere are recording their own videos, which is great, but the majority is no longer targeted toward the initial demographic; they’re diluted. In this case, I feel the quality of videos should be placed above quantity.

  7. clangefe says:

    I think the “It Gets Better” is a great campaign. The messages all seem incredibly heartfelt and they should be heard.

    While I do agree it would be beneficial to place the videos all on one Website where they can be watched, I do think the videos scattered throughout the Web is doing the cause justice as well.

    Many of the stars are posting their videos on their personal sites, which actually reaches their specific audience quicker and reaches the people who would actually listen to their message, too.

    I think the idea of the campaign is to spread awareness and direct the viewers to various helpful Websites, so I see it as a success and incredibly inspiring.

    Reactive PR is not ideal however, I think the “It Gets Better” campaign shows how disorganization can still work.

  8. kpang says:

    The “It Gets Better” campaign is agreeably a great campaign, but with a proper foundation including a time line, goals and more accessible components, it has the potential to expand even further. I first saw the videos through links on Facebook, but didn’t go past watching them through the embedded YouTube videos on the pages. If the campaign had something as simple as a Website backing it up with more resources, the information and message it is trying to send could be easily more widespread. As a sort of “viral” video campaign, it has been successful so far, but addressing such a touching and important issue, I think it has sort of a responsibility to expand into something bigger that will reach out, in depth, to a greater number of people. I wish this campaign hadn’t have had to start as a reactive effort, seeing as if something like this existed before the wake of the tragedies, they could have been prevented all together.

  9. fspangeh says:

    The campaign has an important message and good intentions but it should have come along time ago. It is too bad that five teenagers had to die before something was done, but it is better late than never. I hope the campaign continues and is not a “flash in the pan.” Hopefully, Savage will keep the message out there and it will help people in similar situations. There is success with every person affected by the campaign and even if it dies out, as long as “It Gets Better” helps people I believe it to be a success.

  10. latipton says:

    This is a great campaign. It seems that it was launched very quickly so there are a couple of improvements it could make for clarity’s sake, like the organization of a Website.

    In the New York Times article, Showing Gay Teens a Happy Future, by Tara Parker-Pope, creator Dan Savage said that he wanted to do the YouTube channel based on a comment on a link in reaction to a teen suicide, saying that they wished the could have talked to the kid.

    It’s a great idea. Letting influential people in the world talk to insecure teens about life is awesome. However, instead of having a random array of YouTube videos, one place (like a Website) could bring this all together.

  11. shotchk1 says:

    I think this campaign is successful purely by the popularity of the subject. The objective is to get the point across and I think it is doing that. The lack of cohesion with Websites and celebrities is a shortcoming and could be improved, but it doesn’t stop the message.
    I think it is interesting that the message is to the harassed and the bullied. No one is telling the bully why it’s bad to stereotype and target homosexuals. I wonder why they chose this route? Perhaps it’s easier to sooth the wounds than to prevent them.

  12. jkramey says:

    Watching these videos gives me so much hope … and I don’t see why it would not instill that same hope in those who are seeking it. I think it’s an effective way of reaching their target audience and I think this is a good and versatile model for an awareness campaign.

    The thing that sticks out to me the most from this post, however, is in Dan Savage’s quote: “…We have the ability to talk to them directly right now. We don’t have to wait for permission…” Although it is a different scenario, Savage’s point that anyone has the ability, through YouTube and other online or social media entities, to talk to anyone … for better (as in this case) or for worse, nothing is stopping you. This concept should be applicable to governmental and non-governmental companies too, especially in crisis situations. BP, for example, should have had their own video-blogging type channel during and after the crisis. I think this allows for the transparency that the public trust is vying for.

  13. shuscher says:

    I think this campaign is a fantastic idea, but it could use better execution. As my classmates mentioned above, it’s unorganized and doesn’t have a Website. This makes it difficult to find out more information and learn the key message of the campaign. Essentially, the pieces are in place, but clear, common ground like a Website would really increase the amount of people who understood the message.

    That being said, I don’t want to detract from what this campaign did well. It managed to pull influential people together to help send a common message: “It Gets Better.” The fact that the creators were able to get celebrities to take time to say something on this matter and contribute is amazing. And in a time when technology is constantly developing, it really used its resources to put this together quickly. That way, those kids in need could be reached as soon as possible. Bravo.

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