Entertainment royalty are joining forces for World AIDS Day -- leveraging social media in an unprecedented move to raise awareness and money.
This Wednesday, December 1, Lady Gaga, David LaChapelle, Justin Timberlake, Usher, Serena Williams, Elijah Wood and Kim Kardashian are going Facebook and Twitter cold turkey -- suspending all social networking activity until their fans, in aggregate, raise $1 million for charity.
Dubbed "Digital Death," the idea took root in Alicia Keys' Keep a Child Alive charity that raises funds for medical care and services for children and families affected by HIV and AIDS in Africa and India.
Keys is one of a growing group of celebrities harnessing social media for social good -- using their celebrity as the lure. "It's really exciting. No foundation has used the technology before like we are," commented Keys.
Her first blush with the potency of social media came a few years ago with an appearance on American Idol when one on-air plea for Keep a Child Alive raised "half a million dollars in about four minutes," says Leigh Blake, co-founder. To date the charity has raised $27 million.
Keys and Blake launched Buy Life in September. Selling "This Shirt Fights AIDS" T-shirts with an imprinted bar code enables people with Wimo or Stickybits apps to donate $10 by scanning the Buy Life T-shirt bar code: "Scan the bar code or Text 'BUYLIFE' to 90999 to Join the Fight."
Keys made personal appeals to fellow celebs for "Digital Death" week and was struck by the power of that appeal: "When I laid down the whole concept, it was impossible to say no." Everyone involved -- a virtual Who's Who of celeb digerati, will call on fans and followers, (29 million on Twitter alone) to go silent online... after texting the first name of the celebrity they're "mourning" to 90999, and $10 will be donated... until the $1 million mark is reached.
"It's a really instant way of grabbing their compassion," says Blake. "We're taking the fixation with retail and with buying and all of that, and we're turning it on its head... The artists and celebrities get that they are sort of being devoured already, so they might as well have a bar code."
In taped pleas, Jennifer Hudson and Ryan Seacrest are petitioning fans to "Buy my life back."
Lady Gaga has more than seven million Twitter followers, and 24 million Facebook fans. Keep a Child Alive is betting that her absence -- albeit temporary, along with her fellow celebs, will echo loudly in cyberspace.
Cognizant of the inherent irony in the "Digital Death" stunt, Keys told the BBC: "This is such a direct and instantly emotional way and a little sarcastic, you know, of a way to get people to pay attention."
Leigh Blake adds, "We're trying to sort of make the remark: 'Why do we care so much about the death of one celebrity as opposed to millions and millions of people dying in the place that we're all from?' "
It's a brilliant and noteworthy axial moment in the evolution of social media and celebrity power: shedding light on gripping societal problems and drawing out the inherent goodness of the average fan or tweeter.
A version of this article originally published on www.brandchannel.com.