The day before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Atlanta-based criminal defense attorney and TikTok influencer Alicia Luncheon parked a digital billboard truck outside Atlanta City Hall. As she walked around the surrounding blocks, she asked people on the street if they’d like to send letters — already printed for them — to Gov. Brian Kemp telling him it was time for him to get a vasectomy.
It was all part of a campaign sponsored by Favor, a company formerly known as The Pill Club that prescribes and ships birth control and emergency contraception. After oral arguments were heard last December in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case that led to Roe being overturned, executives at Favor were concerned about the impact it would have on reproductive health. But most of all, the company began wondering about how much its customers knew about the implications of the end of the constitutional right to abortion.
The company decided to use its entire influencer marketing budget for May 15 to July 15 on sponsored content on TikTok, asking influencers and micro-influencers on the platform to talk about what overturning Roe could mean for people’s access to health care. Favor declined to share the total dollar amount spent on influencer marketing during this period.
Sponsoring content on TikTok that relates to a political issue, not selling a product, is a rare move. Favor is seemingly the first company to actively seek out influencer partnerships centered on discussing threats to reproductive rights specifically. The involved influencers say it gives them new ways to reach their audience with important information and get paid doing it, something especially critical for LGBTQ+ creators and creators of color.
Favor let Luncheon lead the charge on her person-on-the-street content. She told executives that she wanted a digital billboard van to drive around downtown Atlanta, past the Capitol, city hall and the county courthouse — and that the billboard should say, “Governor Kemp, how would you like it if we decided the future of your reproductive system?” On the other side: “Governor Kemp, it’s time to get your vasectomy.” The letter she distributed was signed by Favor.
Luncheon then compiled footage from her afternoon engaged in the “activation campaign” into a multi-part series for her TikTok, the first of which came out on Saturday, June 25 — the day after the Supreme Court’s decision. In one of her TikToks, Luncheon shows the letter, the truck and her interactions with Atlantans on the street as she stops them and asks if they think abortion should be legal and what they would think if someone told them they had to get a vasectomy.
Luncheon is used to being approached about partnership deals. She has over 600,000 followers on her TikTok account, where she breaks down everything from the latest political news to the nuances of workings of the legal system, regularly amassing tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of views per post. Her two most popular TikToks ever have been viewed well over a million times each.
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But the calls, she told The 19th, all typically go the same way. “Brands say, ‘Can you do this for a free sticker [and] $50?’” Then they ask her to help them sell a product. “We get low-balled all the time,” Luncheon said of Black and queer creators.
That’s especially true, she said, when it comes to creators who make social justice-related content. “You’re not getting paid for your knowledge which is living in this community, understanding how this community works, and knowing how to spread messages to your community. That is invaluable.”
But when she got a call from Favor, it felt different. The company, “really wanted to make sure I was giving them a rate for what I think Black creators are worth, what queer creators are worth.” Luncheon said she was surprised and excited.
Sarah Abboud, Favor’s director of communications, told The 19th that the company conducted its own consumer research in February and was shocked by what they found: Out of the 540 Gen Z/Millennial people who menstruate they interviewed, just 8 percent know more than a little about Dobbs, and 40 percent said they had never even heard of it. Less than 10 percent of these people said they understood how the ruling might directly impact them. Twenty-four percent said they had never heard of Roe v. Wade.
But 60 percent said they “would care a lot” if they knew that their access to birth control, emergency contraception and abortion were at risk. The same number said they considered themselves “educated” about their reproductive rights.
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It was at this point that the company “knew that influencers would be important.” The overwhelming majority of the company’s customers are Gen Z.
“These are digital natives — they live on social media, on TikTok,” Abboud said. “We wanted to find a way to fill the gap, provide up-to-date information so that people could make informed decisions.”
The company was already engaged in plans to build out a reproductive rights information website with information on Dobbs, Roe, emergency contraception, how to access an abortion and more. But Favor realized that if it really wanted this information to get into the hands of people who needed it, they would need to be on TikTok. The company reviewed “hundreds and hundreds of potential partners” while working with an agency to ultimately identify the nine influencers it chose to partner with. Abboud said Favor was looking for people who were “already speaking on this topic or speaking truth to these issues with their followers, where they’re saying this is just health care and not political.” More TikTok partnerships with more influencers are planned for the future.
“I don’t think we’ve seen any other brands take this approach,” Abboud said. “What we’re learning from Gen Z is that they’re getting information from their peers and the people who they view as their peers that they see on TikTok. Instagram is great for speaking to those who already engage with our content, but TikTok is a great opportunity to engage beyond the Instagram model.”
The strategy is working, Abboud said. Not only do Favor executives see the influencer-created sponsored content on TikTok being shared and saved by users, but they are also seeing users then going to Favor and signing up for birth control or purchasing emergency contraception.
The nine influencers who have gone live with abortion rights-related content sponsored by Favor have in total generated over 5 million impressions. Collectively, this sponsored content has driven an 11 percent engagement rate, well above the industry average of 2 percent.
“We put ourselves in the position now where we’re trying to lead as a go-to resource for information, but knowing that it’s not enough for a brand to do the talking,” Abboud said. “We’re trying to leverage the information we’re providing to influencers so that they have confidence going into creating content that is accurate and is not political.”
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In addition to Luncheon, Liz Plank (219,000 TikTok followers) and Sophia Ongele (298,000 TikTok followers) were commissioned to create activation campaigns to try to spark viral engagement moments both in person and on TikTok surrounding the Dobbs ruling.
Now that Favor has already seen such success with utilizing influencer marketing, the company hopes to “lean in to other areas we can educate on about the trickle-down effects of Dobbs,” Abboud said.
“Our goal is to continue building on the foundation we’ve laid in recent months,” Lauren Scrima, head of brand marketing for Favor, told The 19th. “We believe that it’s our responsibility as a trusted digital health provider for birth control and emergency contraception to continue fighting for patients, women and all people who menstruates right to basic care.”
Gabby Male, one of the influencers hired for the Roe education campaign, had already worked with Favor on sponsored content related to its birth control services after using the company herself. She has 136,000 followers on TikTok and an additional 188,000 followers on Instagram. After an initial conversation, she said, the brand reached back out and said it wanted to pivot to make their sponsorship advocacy-related.
She had never worked with a brand that had done a strictly advocacy campaign. She hopes more brands follow Favor’s lead.
“It’s all about impressions when it comes to influencer marketing — how many impressions did you get and how many things did you sell. What if there were a mindset shift — what if a company said maybe we’re not selling jeans or bikinis today, but just fighting for women?” Male said.
Jackie Gonzalez is one half of visual artist duo Jack and Bec, who have over 285,000 followers on TikTok and were also part of the Favor campaign. Gonzalez said participating in the campaign changed how she will approach future collaborations. She’s had more brands approach them for partnerships, some of which have to do with talking about abortion and other political issues.
“In the future, I do see us working with like-minded brands and businesses about reproductive rights,” Gonzalez said.
Since her sponsored post for Favor discussing the effect Dobbs stands to have on abortion rights, Male said she’s been flooded with DM’s not from other brands, but from followers who describe themselves as “pro-life” — and say Male’s content has changed their minds.
“One person wrote me and said, ‘Gabby — I appreciate how you talk about this. As someone who is pro-life, you have helped open my eyes and now I’m starting to understand that I’m actually more pro-choice than I thought. I would just like people to be more pro-life in certain instances,’” Male said.
This is where Male feels the power of influencers is most underestimated and has the most potential for real political change. “I’m not just talking into an echo chamber of people who believe what I believe, but talking to people who are willing to listen to me. It’s all about how you talk about things and being authentic and having a genuine conversation.”
Nadya Okamoto, an influencer and the founder of sustainable period product line August, also worked with Favor on the Roe educational campaign and is an ambassador with Planned Parenthood as part of an influencer partnership campaign they manage. Okamoto, who has 3.2 million followers on TikTok, said she has seen a lot of influencer acquaintances turn down partnerships like these because they don’t pay enough money. Okamoto said the rate she was paid by Favor for their partnership was 5 percent of her typical sponsored content compensation. She doesn’t care.
“I’m going to be talking about this regardless of whether I’m getting paid. I think every influencer and every brand with a platform needs to be talking about this without any expectation of return,” Okamoto said.
Okamoto’s hopes that brands, and influencers, will continue to make and fund abortion rights content beyond the present moment. “There are pros and cons to the world we live in where commodity activism is a thing. It’s like what we’ve seen with brands and greenwashing. It’s a negative to have brands solely seen as talking about these issues as an advertising plot. The danger is that it’s performative and not really making an impact.”
Looking ahead, Okamoto says she’ll be using her own platform to focus on voter registration and get out the vote efforts ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. She’ll also continue to create content about abortion rights and the trickle down effects the Dobbs verdict will have on these like same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ rights.
“Every influencer with a platform has a responsibility to use that influence to inform people about what’s happening in the world,” Okamoto said. She said she will continue to talk about political issues, including abortion, regardless of whether she’s paid to do so or not. “When this isn’t a trending topic, what are [brands] doing about it? That will be the biggest question.”