The scary season has already hit the whole country. We see 12-foot skeletons in courtyards, pumpkin-flavored drinks on menus, and public TV announcements (PSAs) with a Halloween theme.

Zombies can be an odd choice to get the health community out there. But it’s a way of getting people’s attention. Plus, it’s all fun – isn’t it?

“Humor can be a good way to get your attention if done right. . . and getting your attention is the first step in making a difference, ”said Dr. Jessica Fishman. Dr. Fishman is a behavioral and social scientist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and the Annenberg School for Communication.

So sometimes having fun is a good strategy. For example, the city of Philadelphia posted a video of scary Halloween masks on Twitter to promote the wear of masks during the pandemic. The video is part of the city’s # maskupPHL campaign.

Remember to wear the correct mask this Halloween! #MaskUpPHL

– Philadelphia Public Health (@PHLPublicHealth) October 26, 2020

The federal government becomes active. The US Department of Health is running a “Boo to the Flu” campaign. While this catchy tagline may not convey a lot, it’s easy to remember. And as long as people also remember getting their flu vaccine, it’s a success.

Using Halloween and the creepier side of life as a public health starting point isn’t new.

In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched their preparedness blog entitled “Preparedness 101: Zombine Apocalypse”. The website explained how readers can prepare for public health emergencies, from zombies to hurricanes to pandemics.

“We posted it on Monday. The server crashed on Wednesday, “said Dave Daigle, spokesman for the CDC’s Office for Public Health Preparedness and Response, in a 2011 article on The Atlantic website.” I thought it would get more pickup if I used zombies. . . but what we see is incredible. “

He said emergency preparedness is not always the easiest topic to get people excited about. By combining useful information with zombies, the site received more traffic than ever before.

Dr. Fishman might agree. Getting a campaign viral can be a good thing. “They can lead a life of their own among friends and other forms of popular culture that they use even more extensively than the main campaign,” she said.

For those who are curious, the CDC recommends these things in preparation for zombies as well as hurricanes and pandemics.

  • Water (1 gallon per person per day)
  • Groceries (get hold of non-perishable items that you eat regularly)
  • Medication (this includes prescription and non-prescription drugs)
  • Tools and accessories (utility knife, tape, battery-operated radio, etc.)
  • Hygiene and hygiene (household bleach, soap, towels, etc.)
  • Clothes and bed linen (a change of clothes for each family member and blankets)
  • Important documents (copies of your driver’s license, passport, and birth certificate, to name a few)
  • First aid items (although if a zombie bites you, you are a cheater, you can use these items to treat basic cuts and cuts you might get during a tornado or hurricane)

The site has not been updated but is still attracting new viewers.

On March 25th of this year, a reader named Teresa posted this enthusiastic comment on the website: “I love this! A great way to get young Boy Scouts into e prep without too much trauma. Another reader, Clisara, wrote, “This is pure CDC genius to use this fictional hot favorite to address serious life problems like emergency preparedness.”

Do these somewhat silly campaigns ever backfire?

There was a notorious case a few years ago, recalled Dr. Fishman.

“The video showed a lot of kids looking tall and it felt like this is a common problem in America, a lot of drug use,” she said, “and those who saw this PSA a lot are more likely to think,” Oh my gosh , there are many children who use drugs. I will do drugs. ‘”

That’s right. An anti-drug campaign got more people to use drugs.

After a campaign gets your attention, “They want the message to motivate you in the right way, rather than doing the opposite.” The risk of running a fun campaign can lead to people remembering the joke but forgetting the important message.

Getting these things right is a real science. Sometimes advertising agencies come up with campaigns. “They’ll just be creative ideas for Spitball. It’s like developing a vaccine in the basement without testing it. Sometimes you’re lucky and it might work. Sometimes it has no effects, and sometimes it can have dangerous effects, ”said Dr. Fishman.

Dr. Fishman was unfamiliar with the CDC zombie campaign but said it had its own creepy side project. She is the author of Death Makes the News: How the Media Censor and Display the Dead, a book about the way journalists cover death and corpses.

Sabrina Emms is a science journalist. She began as an intern on a health and science podcast on Philadelphia public radio. Before that, she worked as a researcher studying the way bones are formed. When she is not in the laboratory and at her computer, she is in the moonlight as an assistant to a pig veterinarian and bagel baker.