Mayor’s viral ‘heroic’ flu ‘vaccinate Toronto’ campaign pokes fun at public health

If the city’s new ‘Vaccinate Toronto’ campaign is any indication, the objective of this year’s flu shot could be to induce a sense of heroism in all of Toronto.

For 100 days, beginning on 26 September, the city has been running pictures and hashtag-filled videos around this concept: if you want to protect your loved ones, get vaccinated. You get high fives, as if you’re staying top of your game. It’s a look at what a child does while vaccinated. It’s a dialogue about the importance of keeping everyone healthy, and how the people who work and play together are stronger together. It’s even a cheeky acknowledgement of this season’s N95 Fusible strain virus – a variant of the influenza virus which is notoriously hard to catch, according to Canada’s public health agency.

The ad, overseen by Vancouver agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty, and director David Arneson, is meant to raise awareness of the vaccination, which is why they cast Matt Simonetti as a modern-day superhero-ish superhero, with his special coat of paint: He’s “Vaccinate Toronto.” Just below his photo, the hashtag #VaccinateToronto appears next to a list of people who “can’t pass the flu.” It asks readers to spread that message by purchasing a flu shot.

The campaign reached a million people in their first 10 days. It debuted on 25 September, around the same time as the official the first of two public education broadcasts aimed at reaching Toronto’s low vaccination rates, which the Health Canada estimates to be 42% – almost 70,000 lower than the number that would be considered normal.

The special coat Matt Simonetti wears in the viral video. Photograph: [email protected]

That broadcast advert uses the closing credits of this documentary, Our Lives, on Toronto’s Front Line, a year-long documentary shot by a team of film-makers. In the film, they talk to citizens and residents of the city to find out why so many people aren’t getting vaccinated, and why we think it’s “not worth it”. Their message appears at the end of the movie, as the credits roll, as they ask, “But if it’s worth it, why don’t more people get it?” In the ad, screenwriter Tony Kim asks, “Why are we treating our healthcare system as a contest? You don’t have to wait five years to get a flu shot.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory initially declined to endorse the ad because of its “vague and myopic” appeal, arguing that he hopes the campaign does “part of what all good campaigns do – through sheer repetition and focusing on the importance of vaccinations, we will encourage people to get immunized and immunised people will encourage their loved ones to get immunized.” He was subsequently re-elected in October.

Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s campaign director, Mark Tanner, told the Toronto Star that the agency approached Tory with the idea and he was won over because “in a world like this where things are now contagious, he wants this message to resonate.”

Simonetti said he had little hesitation in playing the role of Vaccinate Toronto. “I believe that, at the end of the day, I’m pretty much invincible as an individual,” he said. “I do it for everyone else, who need their booster.”

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