State Policy Network
How Beacon Center of Tennessee is Persuading Citizens to Live Free Together

Seventy-three percent of Tennesseans believe that freedom in America is under attack and something must be done to protect it. It’s a sobering statistic, and one that indicates how the public senses that we aren’t on the right track as a nation. Here’s another disappointing statistic: Most Tennesseans believe they live in an income tax-free state. In fact, only 17 percent of them have heard of the Hall Income Tax. The Hall Tax is a 6 percent tax on income from savings and investments, meaning the Volunteer State isn’t truly income tax-free.

While these two facts might not seem to have a lot in common, they actually complement each other and are the foundation of an innovative marketing campaign that the Beacon Center of Tennessee just launched in partnership with SPN.

In February, Beacon began airing ads following a time-tested approach first employed by the American Plastic Council in its “Plastics Make It Possible” campaign. This award-winning campaign, created in the 1990s, successfully improved public perception of the plastics industry in the face of growing negative American attitudes about plastic and its effects on the environment. The advertising messaging was informed by Wirthlin Worldwide’s then-novel values laddering approach to issue messaging.

The marketing campaign used an emotionally compelling “umbrella” advertising campaign at a national level to describe the benefits of plastics that the industry wanted to communicate to the public. Complementary advertising at the state level focused on specific anti-plastics policies that directly affected citizens in that region. The result was a double-digit shift in public opinion in favor of plastics and an almost complete shut-down of anti-plastic legislation.

Upon learning of this approach and its success, SPN commissioned Heart+Mind Strategies—a Wirthlin inspired consultant group—to research American attitudes about freedom. The result was the “Freedom Is…” campaign; the working-title signifying that freedom is what Americans need for their well-being, but that it must be redefined because most have grown accustomed to big government in their lives.

John Papola’s creative team at Emergent Order was then brought in to develop umbrella and state-level advertising. Using the research they renamed the project “Free Together” to better reflect how it is only when we are united together as a community that we can make change and that, together, we can live in true freedom without government interference.

The goal of the Free Together campaign is to remind Americans about their freedoms, demonstrate how they are being lost, and then position SPN think tanks as the source of state-based solutions.

In Tennessee, Beacon’s Hall Tax ads are being paired with a set of the “losing it” umbrella ads that illustrate how the loss of freedom threatens Americans’ ways of life. In accordance with the Beacon Center and SPN, the Emergent Order team created some truly inspiring and moving ads and accompanying websites clearly explain how Americans are losing our freedoms one bad policy at a time and how the Hall Tax is another way our freedom is being lost.

The facts about freedom and the Hall Tax cited at the beginning of this article are part of research Heart+Mind Strategies conducted for the Free Together project. When we tested the ad combination, we found that after exposure to both the Free Together and Hall Tax ads, opposition to the Hall Tax increased an incredible 43%. The combination of these two ads strikes a one-two punch, reminding the public of freedoms lost and how individual state-level policies impact that freedom.

For over two decades, SPN has worked with the network to identify innovative state-based solutions to public policy challenges, test them, and then leverage that learning for national impact. Free Together is just that kind of project, and the first of its kind on such a large scale. Even more exciting, the entire network can gain from this effort, as the FreeTogether.org website links directly to each state group, noting them as the defenders of freedom in their respective states and connecting them directly to citizens interested in supporting their work.

The initial results of the Free Together/Hall Tax project are still rolling in at publication, but the data already show that this type of messaging campaign is making headway with citizens and policymakers. We’re excited to share the Beacon case study with the network and see more network think tanks participate. In fact, several other SPN affiliates have already signed on to bring Free Together to their states. This truly is the start of a new era for the free market think tank movement: persuading the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens to embrace public policy that allows us to all live free together.

Justin Owen is the president and CEO of the Beacon Center of Tennessee, the state’s premier free market policy organization. Write him at justin@beacontn.org.

Meredith Turney is the director of strategic communications at State Policy Network. Write her at turney@spn.org.

FreeTogether.org shares the stories of individual Americans working to build and maintain a free society founded on the principles of political liberty, private property, and personal responsibility. If you would like to learn more about how you can participate in the Free Together project, please contact Carrie Conko at conko@spn.org. To see the ad campaign, visit www.FreeTogether.org.