Initial artwork for Covid-19 campaign with Killer Covid and Frantic Flu animated characters

Outsmarting Sneaky Viruses: Crafting a Flu and COVID Campaign for FCDPH

Since the initial outbreak of COVID-19, the Fresno County Department of Public Health (FCDPH) has recognized the crucial need for public awareness about available vaccinations. Their goal is to empower individuals to make informed decisions about their health, protect themselves, prevent the spread of diseases, and contribute to a healthy Fresno County. However, as our annual awareness campaign unfolded, what initially began as a general vaccine awareness campaign soon evolved into a more focused effort to safeguard the community against the flu and COVID-19 viruses.

The proposed timeframe of November through January aligns with the typical surge in flu and respiratory illnesses, offering a proactive approach to curb the spread of these viruses. By focusing on this crucial period, the campaign aims to capture the community’s attention when awareness and preventive measures are most needed. Not only was our goal to encourage vaccinations for these sneaky seasonal viruses, but the campaign also sought to dispel some common misconceptions about vaccines and empower the community with credible information to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.

The Story Behind the Concept

Opening the link to this project brief was met with a sigh of defeat. “Alright, another vaccination campaign,” our art director said, followed by silence. Our brainstorming sessions at JP are typically filled with a steady stream of ideas, so this silence was a bit uncomfortable. Don’t get us wrong, it’s not that we don’t enjoy working on public health messaging. In fact, these campaigns are some of our favorites! However, we know that in the years post-pandemic, it gets harder and harder for our audiences to be receptive to public health-related messaging, especially concerning COVID-19.

Our team has been on a journey with FCDPH for many years, conquering a handful of flu seasons, creating messaging for the lockdown that was predicted only to last a few weeks, and even helping the community understand emerging viruses like Monkeypox. Both our creative lead and copywriter agreed that the only approach for this general vaccination campaign was to do something different.

No more stock photos of people wearing masks.

No more stock illustrations of bandages on arms.

While these designs can be and have been effective, an overabundance of similar graphics and messaging has unintentionally resulted in familiarity blindness. It’s everywhere all the time, like white noise, that we start to tune out. So, if we were going to tackle another vaccination campaign, we wanted to make it stand out. But one key question remained… how?

We started by getting inspired. With a catchy song, a quick brainstorm for messaging, and a few minutes of putting the pencil to paper, we had come up with an entirely new concept—hand-illustrated and completely one-of-a-kind. We called our concept “The Usual Suspects.”

FCDPH's Covid-19 campaign inception sketch of "The Usual Suspects"

Virus Villains from FCDPH's Vaccination Campaign

We call these contagious little critters our virus villains. The story we wanted to tell with this campaign needed to be approachable and fun so that it was appealing to both the general population and parents of children. What better way than to create a cartoon with universal appeal?

Our suspect lineup first included Killer COVID, Manic Monkeypox, and Frantic Flu. However, as mentioned earlier, our main focus for fall messaging shifted to just COVID-19 and flu vaccines, and the name Killer COVID was modified to Crummy COVID.

Initial artwork for Covid-19 campaign with Killer Covid and Frantic Flu animated characters

One of the strengths of the creative in this concept is the versatility of switching out the virus molecules to represent new or emerging illnesses that may be impacting the community at any given time. We now have complete control over the creative look since this campaign has been designed from scratch. In fact, the next phase of this campaign is already shaping up to introduce new characters to highlight all the immunizations that are available locally next spring.

The Final Results

FCDPH was absolutely thrilled with the pitch. Their enthusiastic response was a testament to the hard work and creativity that went into crafting this concept. They not only recognized the unique and compelling new creative that we presented but also saw the potential for groundbreaking success moving forward. We’re excited to get this one-of-a-kind concept in front of our target audience over the course of the next few months.

As creators, it’s our job to urge our clients to be open and receptive to fresh insights when things get stale. This project is the perfect example of the cooperation between FCDPH and our team in that process. While not every idea that challenges industry norms will hit the mark, we sure are happy when the ones that mean the most to us do. Stay tuned as we take our vision to new heights as we continue to develop this campaign in the new year!


Jenica Sabelstrom, Copywriter/Producer & Marisa Palazzo, Account Coordinator