‘What struck me was how ugly the coronavirus character was’: B.C. on Alberta’s creepy ‘Uncle COVID’


Alberta has unveiled a pricey new ad campaign targeting the demographic driving the spread of COVID-19, and at least one public health expert says a twist on the same messaging for those under 40, could work in B.C.

The COVIDLOVES.ca website was launched last Friday with two videos featuring a creepy ‘Uncle COVID’ who loves spreading the virus at house parties and family gatherings.

Read more:
‘Nobody loves a house party more than COVID’: Alberta launches new ad campaign

In the holiday video, COVID-19 arrives at a family Christmas celebration as ‘Uncle Mike’, clad in a festive sweater and sporting an infectious smile. Double fisted, he dips into the communal eggnog and proceeds to share gifts and dinner, getting close to everyone.

In a second video, the coronavirus shows up at a crowded house party, high-fiving attendees and drinking beer. COVID-19 shows off his moves on the dance floor including getting up close and personal with a young woman.

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“What struck me the most was how ugly the coronavirus character was,” SFU Health Sciences professor Dr. Scott Lear told Global News.

“So I think that’s purposely done.”

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While Lear appreciates the humour in Alberta’s attempt to reach 20 to 39-year-olds, he said blaming and shaming won’t work – and the messaging should include positive advice from those in that age group in order to resonate.

“They wanna see people like themselves,” said Lear.

“Talking about what they can be doing and not always talking about what they shouldn’t be doing.”

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Still, Lear said the $2-million ad campaign scores points for being different when B.C. has been relying on much of the same since March. Provincial public health messaging has repeatedly focused on Dr. Bonnie Henry’s advice in TV and social media ads, which Lear says would likely bore the average teenager.

“Our Mom or our Dad says the same thing we’ve heard five times over that week. You know, they may be right but you just tune them out.”

Lear told Global News that rolling out someone from that younger demographic to speak alongside Henry and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix at COVID-19 press conferences would draw more attention to the cause.

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“Even if there’s somebody different up there saying the same thing, it would resonate differently.”

Read more:
Artist, marketing company behind Alberta’s ‘Mr. Covid’ ads say their success means more on the way

Global News has reached out to the B.C. Ministry of Health about the Alberta ad campaign to see if something similar will be launched in our province.

Click to play video 'Could Alberta’s creepy ‘Uncle COVID’ ad campaign work in B.C.?'

Could Alberta’s creepy ‘Uncle COVID’ ad campaign work in B.C.?

Could Alberta’s creepy ‘Uncle COVID’ ad campaign work in B.C.?

Meantime, the SFU academic is teaming up with colleagues from UBC to improve coronavirus messaging with a competition to encourage people to join together in adhering to COVID-19 restrictions over the holiday season.

The Instagram account @HomeforHolidaysBC is looking for TikTok, videos or pictures created by and for young adults.

COVID-safe video and photo submissions will be tagged, shared and reposted.

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“We’re looking for a message that speaks to the age group and is also in the medium that they’re most likely to see,” Lear said.

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© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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