Just three weeks ago, we were in a different place. The national mood was buoyant thanks to our collective fight against the spread of the Coronavirus. We were into the Government’s ‘Phase 3’ with more workplaces, retail outlets and social venues beginning to re-open. We were all on our way to that place called ‘new normal’.

But the last fortnight changed all that. The official narrative indicated that we had got ahead of ourselves. Viral videos of ‘loo-lahs’ in Dublin city centre drinking their heads off, rumours of house parties not seen since the last days of Rome and an apparent invasion of tourists from Covid-ridden countries, caused mild panic to set in again.

And then on July 15th we were told Phase 4 of the grand re-opening (particularly of pubs) was being pushed back until August 10th. Face coverings were to be made mandatory in stores for shoppers and staff as well as on public transport.

Despite increasing evidence, including a report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicating that face masks reduced the chance of transmission or infection by over 8o%, the messaging from Government has lacked clarity. On top of this there is still a reluctance amongst large segments of the public to do the right thing and wear a mask.

Writing in The Irish Times, media and marketing columnist, Bernice Harrison, threw out a challenge to the Irish advertising sector for “a powerful mask campaign” one that would be “ quite different from the vague public service announcements we’re seeing and hearing now – (it) would help ease the confusion, reassure people already wearing masks (and) prompt others to try. It would also help businesses who ask – but can’t demand – that their customers wear them.”

Rallying members of the The Indie List freelance, we decided to create our own unofficial campaign brief in response to this: one which would ideally lead to ideas that would shake people from their inertia and a belief that “Covid is gone”.

Put simply, we wanted people to:

  • Believe: “I’m doing the right thing by wearing a face mask when out and about”
  • Know: “I’ve adopted the right behaviours and helped to play my part.”
  • Do: “I won’t leave home without one.”

Most importantly of all, we needed people to change their behaviour not over time but overnight!

The Response

15 individuals (our “Mask Crusaders”), comprising Indie List freelancers from the fields of copy, art direction, design and digital, responded to our brief and over the last week we have been bowled over by the time, effort and talent that these people have put in to generate initial ideas, all on a pro bono basis.

We wanted to share some of the body of work that we have received as it certainly deserves wider circulation beyond The Indie List community. (Even though the level of polish on some might suggest otherwise, the concepts shown here are still at an early stage, using stock visuals or drawings to illustrate a theme.):

“#MASK UP” (Creatives: Bernie Martin & Nicola Wielopolski)

This campaign combines a strong rational and emotional argument in favour of mask wearing. The art direction cleverly avoids showing actual masks, but the use of typography as a face covering makes the messaging all the more compelling. ‘#MASKUP’ is a really simple line that has the branding and call to action all in one.

As Bernie Martin said: “There are so many reasons to wear masks and we’re all motivated by or have the potential to be motivated by different ones. So instead of telling people what to do, we decided to ‘Hero the Helpful’ and get them to share the reasons why they mask up.”

‘PROTECT’ (Creatives: Katy Egan and Bill Hollingsworth )

Taking a similar route to ‘MASK UP’, this is simple dynamic type-based treatment from Katy and Bill designed for social media also making heroes of face-mask wearers. 

‘FACE FACTS. FACE MASKS SAVE LIFES’ (Creative: David Kelly)

This is fact-based treatment that tackles the ‘anti-masker’ resistance head-on with the weapon of facts and figures. David Kelly has created a really strong campaign line that follows the propaganda tradition (“Careless Talk Costs Lives”) and could lend itself to a variety of different treatments. 

Like several other freelancers, David also had some brilliantly simple ideas using ambient opportunities including this one, partnering with one of the large department stores:

He also created his own version of a mini ‘flash mob’- a team of people with the facts quite literally printed on them or, to be more precise, on their face masks and T-shirts, bringing the ‘Face Facts’ message onto streets, buses and trains.

“Wear a mask, save lives” (Creatives: John Martin & Dave Cowzer)

This team presented a wide range of brilliant executions and great ideas. This particular route reminds people that even though they might be asymptomatic, they should still wear a mask. It puts the responsibility on to those who think they are ‘bullet-proof’ to help save a life.

“Excuses” (Creative: Trista Vincent)

Trista Vincent approached the challenge with the thought that “truth is a more powerful motivator for change than shame, but a combination of both work even better—providing you can make ’em laugh.” Her video idea dramatises our excuses for not wearing masks as hypocritical, absurd or irrelevant. 

How it works: Situational photography or single-set up stings juxtapose the absolute ridiculousness of refusing to wear a mask with the inconvenient, uncomfortable and impersonal things we do regularly. Expression: “We got used to X. We can get used to masks.” Pay-off: “Come on you people/guys/lads in green. Wear a mask. Stop the spread. Play for Ireland.”

Taking the provocative route

A number of our creatives felt that the need to change behaviour overnight was something that could only be achieved by being much more provocative in their approch. Alexis Bouckaert and Paolo Furlan developed these highly-finished executions using imagery which is literally in-your-face:

In a similar vein, John Martin and David Cowzer tackle the lame excuse that wearing a mask is embarrassing:

In this one, art director, Brendan O’Flaherty goes for the ‘shock and awe’ approach. Despite undoubted objections by some, this type of direction using common parlance, can be very successful in getting an issue on the agenda quickly to dominate the national conversation for a short time period.

Using icons

We received a range of concepts which ‘hi-jacked’ recognisable icons. These ones help turn our most famous and loved public statues into ambassadors for the cause.  

Paudge Donaghy and Barry O’Reilly used the arresting visual of Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ for their ‘Silence The Screams’ idea:

Rallying the media

We also had a range of ideas which would involve potential media partners using their persuasive power to get across the ‘mask up’ message: This one involved media masking up their logos, their presenter or columnist photos on a particular day, with an simple accompanying message along the lines of ‘wearing a mask makes a difference.’

Finally, we also had some politically-inspired satirical takes on the issue. While this is unlikely to find favour with officialdom it could prove popular with the public if run as a social media campaign:

We know that Covid-19 still looms large in our country. It is highly infectious, highly transmissible and can kill. All available evidence continues to support basic measures such as social distancing, hand-washing and the wearing of masks. Official public service announcements with “calm and vague” messaging, will not cut it anymore.

The range of potential communication routes shown by The Indie List creatives are varied and some require further refinement. But they demonstrate the role that some of the country’s best creative talents can play in Ireland’s fight against the virus through impactful and persuasive advertising.

Hopefully, the key decision-makers in the Government communications team will seize the opportunity to tackle the challenge differently.

Peter & Úna

We are indebted to the following creative people who gave so much of their time for this initiative: Brendan O’Flaherty, Bernie Martin, Nicola Weilopolski, John Martin, David Cowzer, David Kelly, Paudge Donaghy, Barry O’Reilly, Alexis Bouckaert, Paolo Furlan, Katy Egan, Bill Hollingsworth, Eleanor Harpur, Trista Vincent and to Pearse McCaughey, who guided and shared his immense creative wisdom along the way.