With heart-wrenching ad campaign, Quebec hopes to drive home gravity of COVID-19 pandemic

A video of a man breathing through a tube in his throat is the first in a series of new Quebec government ads aimed at warning the population of the risks of COVID-19.

The first ad features Francis, breathing through a tube in his throat after contracting the virus

In one of Quebec's new advertisements warning of the risks of COVID-19, Francis explains how he was hospitalized for 45 days, 12 of which were in a coma. Since then, he can no longer work.  (François Legault/Twitter)

There is no music or animation, and the backdrop is minimalist.

The spotlight is on a man in his 50s — Francis, a former general contractor — staring straight into the camera. He is breathing through a tube in his throat.

Francis begins to tell his story: he believed he was in great shape until COVID-19 hit him hard and left him with the aftermath of a tracheostomy.

He was hospitalized for 45 days, 12 of which were in a coma. Since then, he can no longer work. 

"I was at a friend's house. We were chatting in the doorway — nothing more mundane than that," he says in French. "Believe me, COVID-19 is serious."

The video is the first in a series of three new Quebec government ads aimed at warning the population of the risks of COVID-19. The campaign launched on Tuesday night.

Premier François Legault asked his advertising team to find COVID-19 survivors with poignant testimonies to convince Quebecers who still doubt the seriousness of the virus that it is, in fact, serious.

"This is not a matter of scaring people," said Michel Léveillé, secretary general associated with government communication. "This is to make sure the impact of the pandemic is clear."

His main challenge is to convince people to limit the number of private gatherings they attend, which Quebec Public Health considers to be the main source of the rise in cases. 

"There is a fine line. We don't want to guilt people. We want them to be careful," Léveillé said. "Then we have to go a step further: this is the call to action to mobilize people." 

He said the message has to have the right tone, at the right time. 

Unprecedented information campaign

The government has spent a monthly average of $10 million on investments in nearly 540 traditional and social media campaigns since March. Quebec's advertisements were translated into 21 languages. 

The Qué website, where all government information on the coronavirus is centralized, has seen nearly two million clicks since the start of the pandemic. 

Before March 12, the government only saw a maximum of 2,000 Internet users on the site at once. When sectors closed down during the first wave of COVID-19, as many as 65,000 were simultaneously looking for information on Qué 

In March, there was only one page of information on COVID-19. About 100 have been created since then, either to inform people about the various measures being put in place or to direct them to resources.

The biggest communication challenge for Quebec is reaching adults in their 20s. That's why the government is reaching out to Quebec stars who are known to young people.

With files from Radio-Canada's Véronique Prince


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