At first, they were considered diehard Britney Spears fans. Then, they were conspiracy theorists. Now, Free Britney activists are leaders of a cultural moment with far-reaching impacts.
Turn on any screen and you’ll likely hear about pop icon Britney Spears’ battle with a more than decadeslong conservatorship that has been in control of her finances and her person. Spears herself made repeated unsuccessful attempts to end the conservatorship. Instead, it took an army of persistent supporters, who created a podcast, a viral-trending hashtag and glittery sign-toting protests, for significant change in her case to occur.
Few brands in today’s digital age can achieve what this movement has:
- celebrity influencer marketing,
- international earned media awareness, and
- bi-partisan support in a divisive political climate of a
- bill that protects individuals in legal conservatorships, to name a few.
Today’s marketing professionals have a lot to learn from Free Britney activists. Here are a few takeaways that can help build momentum for any brand, event or cause:
Heather Bragg is a well-known marketing consultant whose unique experience as a former newspaper journalist leads businesses to success. Heather is best known for developing well-rounded marketing plans that focus on the long-term.
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Keep your message clear and consistent.
Cultural pundits credit the success of the Free Britney movement to social media. However, anyone can post to Facebook or Twitter. This grassroots network of Spears supporters stands out because they are implementing communications in a way that is organic, organized, daringly consistent and without the polish of a swanky advertising budget.
If there is one communication lesson to remember from Free Britney, it’s that the messaging should be easy to understand, transparent and accurate in order to build trust with your audience. The pro-Spears camp has always been laser-focused on uncovering the truth behind the conservatorship. They use public court documents, their own investigative materials and news coverage to support their findings.
For instance, the freebritney.army website run by Leanne Simmons is focused on disseminating information to supporters. They take the time to educate the public on the history of the movement with a timeline of events surrounding the conservatorship, court documents and latest case developments. Freebritney.army does a great job at detailing how to write to politicians and how to apply pressure to corporations to boycott Spears’ music while the conservatorship is likely to profit. The site also provides downloadable graphics that anyone can post on social media.
Stay self-aware and flexible to change.
The Free Britney movement does not exist in a vacuum of Spears fans. If you read the mission statement, anyone who feels compelled to advocate for those who suffer from conservatorship abuse are welcome:
The #FreeBritney movement seeks to end the conservatorship of Britney Spears and raise awareness about conservatorship abuse.
In other words, organizers and supporters recognize that this movement is bigger than Spears, begging the question: If an international pop star like Spears can lose her constitutional rights, then what happens to people who don’t have thousands of fans to rally for their support? People from all walks of life and generations have joined the cause because they feel a personal connection — as people with loved ones in conservatorships, as women’s right activists, as music lovers or as outraged humans.
Many brands fizzle out because they aren’t flexible enough to pivot on change. That’s not the case with the Free Britney movement. For instance, Britney’s Gram podcast hosts Tess Barker and Babs Gray didn’t intend on creating a catalyst for the #FreeBritney hashtag and movement. They started the podcast out of a curious fascination with Spears and her Instagram posts. After receiving an anonymous insider tip pointing to abuse in the conservatorship, the podcast took a more watchdog turn. Now known as “Toxic: The Britney Spears Story,” the once kitschy, fun podcast has become a news-breaking outlet that “researches B’s conservatorship, talking to insiders, and digging into a flawed court system.”
This fluidity catapulted the group from a protest to a movement of cultural and societal change.
When Comedians Tess Barker, left, and Barbara Gray created the Britney Gram’s podcast, they had no idea that it would be the catalyst for the #FreeBritney Movement.
Change the conversation.
A great example of how the Free Britney Movement has organized efforts from around the world. This flier design was created by Yellow Yuri, an illustrator from Croatia.
As a result, Spears activists changed how the world sees their movement and Spears as an individual. Long before the conservatorship was put into place, the media festishized Spears as a sex icon. As her popularity grew, late night TV hosts made her the butt of jokes and gossip rags erroneously sensationalized her as an unstable mother. Free Britney, however, wouldn’t have it. They questioned the double standards placed on women and criticized the horde of paparazzi that stalked their pop music queen and put her children in danger.
Now, the movement once told to “grow up,” is a source of accurate information for major news outlets that cover the ongoing Spears conservatorship case. Activists on social media continually scoop professional journalists — sharing court documents on Twitter and developing coveted relationships with insider sources, for instance.
Refreshingly, Spears’ damaged reputation is being seen from a larger, more responsible perspective that turns the spotlight of criticism on a sexist culture, a damaged paternal court system, healthcare that misunderstands mental health and a music industry that mistreats women. In short, Free Britney built trust by keeping the message real. They stayed away from hyperbolic marketing slogans and embraced evidence-based messaging.
As more people challenge patriarchal points of view like this pop culture movement, it will become nearly impossible to exist online without truth and authenticity.
Just ask Jamie Spears.