Don't Go Viral

Billboard with the following text, "Can't wait to tag along and meet the family. - Corona V

by Kelly Perritt and Emma Vought

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic MUSC Health began seeing the need to create a public service announcement campaign to educate the public about following key measures to control the spread of coronavirus. The goal was to use a creative approach to provoke a “stop in the social scroll” among those ignoring personal safety measures that slow the spread of coronavirus. With the help of creative agency Chernoff Newman, MUSC Health launched a campaign with the tagline “Don’t Go Viral.”

The major message themes focused on the key safety measures of masking, social distancing, hand sanitizing and testing. Analysis of research and data enabled the campaign to weave messaging into creative concepts around major places and events that led to high levels of viral transmission. Nothing was off the table, and even locations such as bars and churches where there was a high rate of virus spread were called out in the creative planning.

In a unique approach, one of the first decisions made was to personify the coronavirus with its own voice and personality. This character, Corona V, spoke with audiences about the spread of the virus in an informal, tongue-in-cheek manner to help the messaging stand out in a sea of advertising and marketing. The team segmented audiences by age, geography and specific demographics to further tailor messaging that was delivered via traditional, digital and interactive placements, including paid social and display ads and other impactful tactics.

The approach purposefully branched out from typical campaign strategies and was designed to be a bit edgy in terms of content and messaging. Corona V delivered phone messages that were turned into radio spots, shared smart-alecky posts on Facebook and plastered comments on billboards. All the while, MUSC Health chimed in to encourage audiences to not go viral.

One of the primary audiences of the campaign was those aged 25 to 34 years. In an effort to engage this demographic, MUSC Health used a variety of tactics, including Instagram stories to weave plots that were somewhat catty, to drive home the key messages. The health system also deployed video ads for the first time on SnapChat and TikTok. These two platforms are most used by ages 17 to 24. Videos for the campaign included a take on the “You Have to Stop” trend with a series of videos featuring tiny doll hands. In this series, a playful approach showed small hands washing, pulling a mask up over a nose and getting a nasopharyngeal swab test. In another first, MUSC Health incorporated Twitter polls to ask key questions about pandemic safety and public thoughts around the pandemic that helped with gathering information and educating and engaging the public.

Overall, phases I and II of the campaign were well received. Impressions from the campaign were in the millions, and engagement on Facebook was well above the health care industry benchmarks. The Twitter polls received particularly strong engagement, and the metrics showed that the target audiences were reached with the desired level of frequency.

As the nation and the world have adapted to the challenges of 2020, so has MUSC. With the development of COVID-19 vaccines and new hope for the future, we move forward into 2021 with a pivot in messaging. We are currently developing phase III of the campaign to not only continue key messaging from phases I and II but also add messaging about coronavirus vaccination. With this new phase, the aim is to build upon the success and awareness of previous work but also remain agile and attentive to the needs and receptivity of the audience. In the months ahead this messaging will not only provide education and awareness but also help to improve the lives of South Carolinians.