Mr. COVID campaign racks up accolades at Edmonton advertising awards show

The company behind the Alberta government's campaign depicting a coronavirus mascot at gatherings piled up Edmonton advertising awards over the weekend.

The Government of Alberta also recognized in the Fearless Client category

Kurt Beaudoin, ZGM director of storytelling, holds a replica of the COVID-19 mascot head used in the province's "COVID Loves" campaign. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

A provincial public health campaign known for its villainous depiction of the coronavirus at gatherings racked up trophies at an Edmonton advertising award show over the weekend.

The Advertising Club of Edmonton held its 42nd annual awards ceremony on Saturday. ZGM Modern Marketing Partners received 56 awards in total, including 18 for its work on the "COVID Loves" campaign.

Kurt Beaudoin, ZGM's director of storytelling, is proud of the impact the campaign has made.

"As far as a public health crisis, that's as good a cause as you can try to get behind to make a difference," he said.

The Government of Alberta was also recognized at the show in the Fearless Client category, which awards a client who supports a project or campaign outside its comfort zone.

"They were brave enough to take a different approach there, so we were really happy to see them win that," Beaudoin said.

The $2-million ad campaign made a big splash on social media when it was launched in December. On the province's YourAlberta YouTube channel the videos have been viewed over two million times.

They feature a coronavirus mascot known as Mr. COVID — or "Creepy Uncle COVID" to some — who awkwardly attends weddings, parties, and packed elevators while sporting a villainous head like something out of a horror movie.

The Alberta Government approached ZGM in the fall to create a relatable campaign that targeted Albertans between the ages of 18 and 40. When it released, the province was experiencing a second wave of COVID-19 cases leading up to the holiday season.

John Pracejus, a professor of marketing at the University of Alberta, isn't surprised the campaign is being recognized for its impact during the pandemic. 

"It was certainly an unusual approach to the coronavirus messaging that was going on at the time," he said. "I think a lot of it was very sterile, very cold, very sort of science-y."

"I think in some ways it really broke through because it didn't look like any of the other messaging. It looked very relatable and a little bit scary."

ZGM has received attention before with other Alberta public health campaigns, including Plenty of Syph, which used a parody of online dating sites to raise awareness for a spike of syphilis infections in the province in 2011.


Travis McEwan

Video journalist

Travis McEwan is a video journalist who covers stories ranging from human interest and sports to municipal and provincial issues. Originally from Churchill, Man., Travis has spent the last decade working at CBC Edmonton reporting for web, radio and television. Email story ideas to travis.mcewan@cbc.ca.