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  • Lou Killeffer

#BacktoSchoolTogether in Chapel Hill?

Updated: Aug 24, 2020

Last Monday, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I teach “Advertising in the Age of Alexa” as an adjunct in the evening, determined it was shifting all in-person undergraduate instruction to remote learning.

The announcement came only two weeks after welcoming students back to campus; where COVID clusters seemed to start sprouting almost immediately; and just a day after the school's weekly COVID-19 positivity rate rose from 2.8% to 13.6% (August 10-16).

Remarkably enough, two days later, in partnership with MTV and ViacomCBS Entertainment, our friends at the Ad Council launched their new campaign:  #BacktoSchoolTogether. Building on the Council’s initial campaign against COVID, #AloneTogther, as shared with us last spring by Director of Strategy & Evaluation, Catherine Chao, #BacktoSchoolTogether focuses on facts to dispel myths among students facing the unique challenges of simply going back to school this fall.

Jenn Walters, Campaign Director at the Ad Council, was gracious enough to explain the goals and components of the campaign in some detail.

Created with guidance from the CDC as millions of students began returning to school, the campaign is a fresh resource for colleges, universities and media partners to “encourage students to take protective measures, maintain social distance, wash their hands, and wear face masks, whether remote or on-campus, to help keep COVID out of school.”

The centerpiece of the effort includes a series of spots created by Delcan & Co., Block & Tackle, and MTV’s in-house Brand Creative Team.

The first two PSAs, entitled “Do it for Everyone”, promote peer culture and community support and compliance in following public health guidance. A second wave includes four spots featuring Dr. Darien Sutton-Ramsey, MD, addressing “COVID Myths 101” regarding the effectiveness of masks, mistaken beliefs about antibodies and immunity, the prevalence of asymptomatic spread, and the significance of COVID-related symptoms. The third set includes animated spots on “Slowing the Spread” through wearing your mask, social distancing, and washing your hands.

The standout here, for me, was Dr. Sutton-Ramsey’s COVID Myths Partying spot which corrects the illusion that folks can party as long as they don’t have symptoms. This of course is false because up to 40% of the people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic and fully capable of passing the virus on to others.

Various aspects of the campaign also direct students to, for additional tips on preventing the spread and coping, with specific resources for mental health support. 

The entire campaign toolkit – complete with videos, social graphics, post copy, and a guide for co-branding and custom content development - can be found here.

I’ll save comments on Carolina and its miscues for another time. There’s more than enough acrimony in the wind at the moment. Clearly a great many hopes and plans, and far too many people, have been dramatically upset. Both the current disruption and uncertainty ahead are real. Still I believe the Chancellor and his team, and the assorted Deans and their teams, deserve a great deal of credit for trying to open the University; for doing their very best to make it work. It didn’t. Hopefully, lessons learned, maybe we’ll all do be better next time...

Our class will debate the merits of the #BacktoSchoolTogether campaign when Carolina reopens by Zoom on Wednesday. I’m keen to see how the students assess and respond to the messaging, particularly those featured in "COVID Myths 101".

I wonder what could happen if everybody did...


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