'We wanted to capture his reaction': How Ancestry told Tom Hanks he's related to Mister Rogers

Of top concern was "ensuring brand messaging got included."

Company: Ancestry
Campaign: Tom Hanks and Mr. Rogers are related
Agency partners: Lippe Taylor (PR, media relations)
Duration: November 2019

Ancestry surprised Tom Hanks on the red carpet by telling the actor that he and Fred Rogers, who Hanks plays in the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, are sixth cousins. 

Ancestry, a genealogy company that sells at-home DNA tests, has genealogists on staff who are tasked with finding interesting connections between celebrities. In the past, the company has unearthed links between Justin Bieber, Avril Lavigne and Ryan Reynolds. In summer 2019, the team discovered that Hanks and Rogers, the late host of the preschool television series Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, are sixth cousins. The relationship was particularly relevant, as Hanks plays Rogers in the film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which opened November 22. 

Ancestry worked with Lippe Taylor to determine the best strategy to reveal the connection. Of top concern was "ensuring brand messaging got included," said Keri Madonna, VP of media at Lippe Taylor. 

The team considered simply telling Hanks’ publicist but worried the actor would reveal the link without mentioning Ancestry’s involvement. Instead, Ancestry decided to work with the media to break the news to Hanks directly. 

"We wanted to capture his reaction," Madonna said.

Lippe Taylor pitched the exclusive to a producer at Access Hollywood, who revealed the connection to Hanks during a red carpet interview. 

"We were able to add in the messaging about the fact that Ancestry has billions of records, and how surprising discoveries are made every day," said Iya Bleyman, SVP at Lippe Taylor. "Ensuring we could get that brand positioning in was a big deciding factor in who was going to tell the story." 

In the clip, Hanks reacted with surprise and shared the news with his wife, Rita Wilson. After the clip published on November 18, Lippe Taylor pitched the news to other outlets, casting a wide net. 

The Hanks-Rogers reveal generated more than 500 earned media placements, including coverage on Good Morning America, CBS, Fox, Today.com, People, The Washington Post and CNN, where it was one of the 10 top news stories of the week. 

News articles covering the connection generated more than 818,260 social engagements in one week, accounting for nearly half of all the likes, comments and shares on news articles about the film during the week of its theatrical release. 

Articles that mentioned Hanks and Ancestry were shared more than 114,900 times. 

"The flywheel was so viral that Snopes.com actually picked it up and fact-checked, validating it and citing Ancestry as the source of truth within just 48 hours of Lippe Taylor breaking this news," said Lippe Taylor president Paul Dyer.

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