An unwanted party guest, ‘Mr. COVID,’ stars in Alberta pandemic fatigue campaign

Who: Government of Alberta, with ZGM for creative and strategy, DDB Edmonton for media, Tom Gunia directing, and Wtchcrft for production. Special effects (the mask) by Ravenous EFX.

What: “COVID Loves,” a new COVID safety campaign to remind younger Albertans about the continuing dangers of the deadly pandemic.

When & Where: Two TV ads launched last week, with two more coming soon. There’s also a website, some outdoor, and social versions, including special content for TikTok that will also drop soon.

Why: While cases and deaths from COVID have been going up in the province, the government believes public safety messages haven’t been resonating as they once did—and never really broke through with some people. It needed a new approach to try and connect again in a meaningful way to encourage the safe behaviours that combat the virus.

The government reached out to ZGM earlier this fall for help getting adults 18 to 40 to follow the already familiar safety protocols, particularly around private social gatherings.

“We knew there was enough information and knowledge out there, and enough of one certain tone of delivering this message from every possible source in the world,” said Kurt Beaudoin, director of storytelling at ZGM, the Alberta government’s creative agency of record. But it was also clear that people were tuning out the straightforward earnest messaging from health authorities. “So then it was like okay we need a different approach.”

How: ZGM created Mr. COVID, a personification of the coronavirus that attends house parties, family dinners, and other social gatherings. “He’s the most enthusiastic, quintessential participant in any of those private social gatherings,” said Beaudoin. But in this case, his presence can be deadly.

“So many people right now are like, ‘Oh can’t I just have a Christmas dinner?’ And if we can catch them with something that feels like an inconvenient truth that they can relate to, and rethink that, that’s the ultimate goal,” said Beaudoin.

Is Mr. Covid scary or funny? ZGM intended him to be more funny scary than terrifying, but not everyone has responded that way. “The only reaction that I’ve been surprised by, really, is people finding it quite terrifying,” said Beaudoin. “But to us we felt we were writing and filming stuff that was more comedy… we didn’t feel like we were making the next Nightmare on Elm Street.”

Does Mr. Covid talk? “He’ll never talk. He’s almost metaphorical, a presence more than a speaking character,” said Beaudoin.

Why will this change behaviour? “We’ve made it real instead of just telling you not to do it,” said Beaudoin. “It’s really just an old school product demonstration, where we’re showing if you do have this get together—and we show you all these really relatable things from a typical house party or get together—we’re reminding you he’s gonna be there too.”


David Brown