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'Creepy Uncle COVID': Alberta COVID-19 ad warns against holiday gatherings

Last Updated Dec 11, 2020 at 4:29 pm MDT

EDMONTON (660 NEWS) – A new, and frankly somewhat terrifying, ad campaign from the Alberta government is highlighting the risk of having family gatherings during the holidays.

The video starts with a relative coming to the door to celebrate, but it turns out to be an unwelcome guest.

It’s Uncle COVID, wearing a large mask that resembles the coronavirus molecule.

The visiting virus then proceeds to stick his hands in a bowl of eggnog, share gifts with the family and sit down for dinner.

The advertisement ends with a grim message that “nobody loves a holiday gathering more than COVID”.

It is all tied to a digital campaign, featuring more information and terrifying messages at COVIDloves.ca.

While the ad is seen as nightmare fuel for some, it is certainly generating a conversation and is already very popular online, racking up thousands of views on YouTube and being shared hundreds of times on Twitter soon after launching.

“Very disturbing ball-headed, COVID-head character that’s probably going to haunt my dreams tonight, to be perfectly frank,” Dr. AnneMarie Dorland, an assistant professor of marketing at Mount Royal University, said.

Dorland thinks the fact this is quite a scary visual could also be the key to its success.

“The idea that our friends and loved ones could be a source of danger is terrifying. The idea that Christmas could be a dangerous time is terrifying,” she said. “It is an alarming message.”

Throughout the pandemic, there has been a particular challenge in connecting with younger people, as the government and health officials have put a spotlight on social gatherings for driving the spread of the virus in recent months.

Judging by immediate social media reaction, it does appear like the strategy is working.

“The more it picks up steam, the more it gets shared, and these things do take off. Campaigns like this do grow wings in terms of leaving into the world and being shared amongst people,” she said. “It’s already given me a way to think about how to have a conversation that can be very fraught, to be perfectly honest. This is a tough thing to talk about.”

While it will be difficult in some ways to determine success through this campaign, but time will tell if COVID-19 cases start to decrease and then it is possible strategies like this could have played a role.

The campaign has also come with a price tag of about $2 million, something Dorland found to be fairly reasonable for this situation. There’s a lot of behind the scenes work that has to go into something like this, along with months of preparation, hiring actors and of course trying to develop the scary COVID-19 head for the main character.

“It’s not just an ad,” she said. “It is a strategy. It is a war. And it is a war we need to fight with everything we’ve got, and changing our behaviour is really, really critical and it requires everything we have. This is an important part of that puzzle.”

It also creatively labels each safety measure, including wearing a mask and sanitizing, as different ways of battling COVID-19.

Wearing a mask: “Take it off and come close, I have a secret… I hate masks,” is one of them.

Sanitizing: “I hate the smell of this stuff. Plus, sanitizers kill germs. Ask yourself: are you a cold-blooded killer?”

Social distancing: “Two metres, six feet, one ski-length…however you measure it, I hate it.”

No social gatherings: “I’m super tech-challenged, so yeah, I won’t be coming to your virtual party.”

Avoiding travel: “Nobody travels like me, I’m the ultimate globetrotter. So if you’re planning any flights or road trips, I might just tag along.”

Isolating when sick: “It breaks my heart when people ghost me for two weeks. I meet them, and they avoid me like the plague.”

Getting tested: “Sure I’ll go to the clinic, but only if we can stop for ice cream and groceries and to try on some clothes.”

Dorland said there is an added bonus for the advertisements being particularly creepy, because nobody wants to be the one notorious for spreading a deadly virus to their family, friends, and loved ones.

“Do you want to be creepy Uncle COVID? I don’t want to be creepy Uncle COVID. Good lord.”