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‘This was a life and death branding assignment’: On advertising for the COVID-19 age

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In the summer of 2020, JinJa Birkenbeuel got the assignment of a lifetime: Advocate Health Care, the largest healthcare system in Illinois, wanted her agency Birk Creative to develop a public-health campaign to educate Black and Latinx residents about COVID-19. The disease was raging in Illinois, and communities of color were especially hit hard. Birkenbeuel and her team knew they couldn’t just make a clever poster and call it a day.

Instead, they responded with a multi-phase campaign that used custom memoji and the simple tag line “We Got You” to meet historically underserved communities where they are: on their phones. “The one tool that everyone has is a mobile phone,” Birkenbeuel says. “So this was something everyone could understand.”

The campaign is a finalist in the 2021 Innovation by Design Awards in the Pandemic Response category. Here, Birkenbeuel walks us through her mobile-first strategy, why her team focused on female memoji, and why representation in advertising matters—but still has a long way to go.

Fast Company: What was your design brief?

JinJa Birkenbeuel: The original assignment was supposed to focus on virus mitigation rates—[helping] people in the Black and Brown communities in Chicago and in parts of Illinois to become aware of what is needed to not get COVID-19. The main assignment really was media buying. But at my agency, we have a lot of experience with helping clients reach communities that have been historically ignored.

So when I started understanding the results that they were looking for and the actual data points, I realized that this wasn’t just putting together a poster that said, ‘COVID-19 is here.’ At that point, it became less of them giving me a design brief and more of my team going back to the client saying, ‘This is what this assignment really needs to look like.’

So we created the design brief to align with how many people they were trying to reach. We needed to create messaging. We needed to create........

© Fast Company

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