Make It Black

How a Black dating app teamed up with Shaq's ad agency to create the viral #VaxThatThangUp video

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Rapper Juvenile performs onstage at The Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre on August 31, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan.
Aaron J. Thornton | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Since its release last Tuesday, the pro-vaccine anthem #VaxThatThangUp, a remix to rapper Juvenile's '90s hit "Back That Thang Up," has garnered nearly 3 million views on YouTube and widespread attention on social media as the nation aims to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The viral video, that serves as a commercial for the BLK dating app, came about from some very unlikely partnerships: The White House, Shaquille O'Neal's ad agency Majority and BLK, a dating app that is trying to establish itself as the destination of choice for Black singles.

"People are talking. And that's the big thing, that communication about vaccination. If you get it you get it, if you don't you don't, it's your body. But at least like make an informed choice. That's what we want people to do, get some kind of education around it," Jonathan Kirkland, head of marketing at BLK, told CNBC. BLK is a subsidiary of Match Group, the parent company of Tinder.

#VaxThatThangUp was the brainchild of an April meeting between BLK and Majority.

"We were actually working with them on a different campaign," Kirkland said. "They just had this random idea about #vaxthatthangup. We looked at it, I think they just left it there for shock value."

Majority co-Founder Omid Farhang was in the pitch meeting and co-wrote the original lyrics.

"These are the ideas we bring to meetings to show clients that we are unafraid. Part of our job is to push them with the expectation that we are not going to actually make these ideas 99 out of 100 times," Farhang told CNBC.

But the team at BLK thought about the pitch for several days and decided to explore the idea. O'Neal used his music industry contacts to get Juvenile and Platinum producer Manny Fresh on board. The song was recorded in New Orleans and the video was shot in Atlanta in June.

"Juvie liked it, Manny liked it. There was no hesitation. They [Juvenile and Manny Fresh] tweaked it a little bit, recorded it and shot the video. It's been a whirlwind! The fact that we were able to pull all this off in a short period of time is amazing," said Kirkland.

"The message showed up right on time culturally," said Farhang about the campaign that is the first created by Majority. "Five billion media impressions later, of course we did not anticipate this. Anyone who would anticipate an idea going viral to this extent has to be a maniac!"

In May, BLK and other dating apps partnered with the White House to promote COVID-19 vaccinations.

The dating app is encouraging users to get vaccinated by placing an icon that reads "Vaxified" on their profile if they self-report their status (proof is not required for health privacy reasons). BLK also provides a free "boost" for vaccinated members, that brings more attention to their profile.

Before #VaxThatThangUp emerged, BLK was planning to launch a more traditional campaign ahead of July 4 as part of the Biden administration's push to get 70% of U.S. adults vaccinated by the Independence Day holiday. Currently, about 66% of U.S. adults are now vaccinated, according to NBC News. Only about 50% of Black adults in the U.S. have at least one shot of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to Kaiser Family Foundation.

"We didn't hit that 70% goal set by the White House, but that doesn't mean the conversation has to stop. So, hopefully with this video, either it'll spark people to take action to get vaccinated or at the very least to have conversations about it so that the conversation doesn't stop because it's definitely important, especially within our community," said Kirkland.

Kirkland began his role at BLK in April of 2020, just weeks before the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd's death changed his marketing plans for last year and Kirkland believes it made elevating the online tools for Black dating more crucial.

"All my initial plans for 'Hot Girl Summer' reimagined, definitely had to pivot all that. I felt that BLK even outside of George Floyd has a deeper responsibility to the community we serve," said Kirkland.

BLK is also hoping to open a new conversation about Black online dating. Kirkland emphasized BLK is not just a Black version of Tinder or OK Cupid, two of Match's other popular apps.

"It's supposed to be like the cookout if you will, where you have all socio-economic classes, all shades, but at the end of the day, we're all at this cookout together, and we just get it," he said. "And that's the space that we're trying to create."

According to a Pew Research study released in February 2020, Black Americans have the highest level of online dating apprehension with 58% saying they have safety concerns with dating apps compared to 55% of Latinos and only 42% of white users.

BLK has had 5 million downloads since it was launched in 2017, user engagement spiked 30% the day #VaxThatThangUp went viral. Kirkland says 31% of BLK users are between the ages of 18 and 24. He considers the increased interest as a testament to the strength of the message and the desire for people to connect as we get to the new normal.

"Eighteen to 24 is the sweet spot for us, that demographic wasn't even born when the song came out, yet it still resonates with them," he says. "So from an awareness standpoint, it not only crossed generations, it also crossed cultures."

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