Don’t Feel Bad for the Lonely Covid Monster in This Social Distancing PSA

Creatives bring the virus to life as a reminder to keep it isolated

Screenshot of the Covid monster on the beach
A lonely day at the beach. #MakeCovidLonely
Headshot of T.L. Stanley

Germs have starred in advertising for decades in all their disgusting glory, at times magnified, life-sized and anthropomorphized, and usually the target of gross-out puns and cringeworthy jokes about killing them.

The coronavirus is different in every way, so it’s touchy territory to turn the deadly illness into a three-dimensional cartoonish character, especially one that seems as bedraggled and forlorn as the centerpiece of this new PSA. (You almost feel sorry for him?)

Here’s what tempers the situation: There’s no client and no media budget. And without a brand attached, a group of sheltering-at-home creatives in Toronto took their imaginations out for a spin—remotely, of course—and came up with #MakeCovidLonely, to promote social distancing. Watch it here:

The goal of the 60-second spot is simple, the team members said. They want to drive home the value of staying apart even though many quarantined residents understandably crave human contact after months of isolation. Look no further than the weekend’s news reports from around the U.S. to see how some people are flouting the six-foot rule as businesses and public spaces begin to reopen.

“Covid-19 can still feel abstract to many, making it hard to stick to physical distancing,” says Matthew Donne, one of the creative directors on the project. “Social distancing makes us lonely. But it makes Covid-19 lonely too. And that’s the only way to beat it.”

The PSA, newly launched on YouTube and other social platforms, puts the character in numerous locations, capturing his (its?) reaction to an abundance of solo time. The creature, by the way, is rendered with 3D modeling so its movements can be controlled and it can be manipulated to appear to have feelings. The process also allows it to be dropped into any environment.

As a soundtrack, the team chose “Mr. Lonely,” a 1962 classic from Bobby Vinton, hoping the ballad’s inclusion will fall under “creative license.”

In the short film, the bipedal monster is visiting Times Square, along with various beaches, skate parks, business districts, playgrounds and train stations. All are empty, which makes the character sad. His shoulders sag, and his head drops in that universal sign of disappointment. His desperation for companionship is so great that at one point he holds up a cardboard sign that reads, “Free hugs.”

Don’t be hoodwinked, the creatives said.

“By transforming Covid-19 into a visible character, we hope to remind people of what we accomplish when we practice social distancing,” said Thomas Dagg, the 3D artist behind the video. “We’re the ones that control how much infectious power the virus has—it can’t spread if it’s lonely.”

The tone, with its subtle humor, is meant to make the issue accessible, Donne said, “using a touch of levity to dramatize some people’s reaction to the virus, which is to underestimate it and misunderstand how social distancing is meant to counteract it. All it wants to do is get closer. All we have to do is make it lonely.”

For a series of Instagram posts, the team placed the furry-looking character into images from major cities, so it looks like he’s unhappy at deserted landmarks like Venice Beach in Los Angeles, Miami Beach’s Ocean Drive, Chicago’s Cloud Gate, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

He’s also saying things like, “I’ll fix your lockdown haircut,” and “Can I pet your dog?”

Again, don’t fall for this ruse.

3D Artist : Thomas Dagg
Creative Direction: Matthew Donne and Rich Brown
Sound Design and Mix: Berkeley Inc.
Editing: Marka Rankovic @ Married To Giants
Production: Megan Flett
Matt Stasoff: Strategy

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@TLStanleyLA T.L. Stanley is a senior editor at Adweek, where she specializes in consumer trends, cannabis marketing, meat alternatives, pop culture, challenger brands and creativity.