JinJa Birkenbeuel on advertising for COVID-19 age

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In the summertime of 2020, JinJa Birkenbeuel acquired the project of a lifetime: Advocate Well being Care, the biggest healthcare system in Illinois, wished her company Birk Creative to develop a public-health marketing campaign to coach Black and Latinx residents about COVID-19. The illness was raging in Illinois, and communities of color were especially hit hard. Birkenbeuel and her crew knew they couldn’t simply make a intelligent poster and name it a day.

As an alternative, they responded with a multi-phase marketing campaign that used customized memoji and the easy tag line “We Acquired You” to satisfy traditionally underserved communities the place they’re: on their telephones. “The one device that everybody has is a cell phone,” Birkenbeuel says. “So this was one thing everybody might perceive.”

The marketing campaign is a finalist within the 2021 Innovation by Design Awards within the Pandemic Response class. Right here, Birkenbeuel walks us by means of her mobile-first technique, why her crew centered on feminine memoji, and why illustration in advertising issues—however nonetheless has an extended method to go.

JinJa Birkenbeuel [Photo: courtesy Birk Creative]

Quick Firm: What was your design transient?


JinJa Birkenbeuel: The unique project was speculated to focus on virus mitigation charges—[helping] folks within the Black and Brown communities in Chicago and in elements of Illinois to grow to be conscious of what’s wanted to not get COVID-19. The principle project actually was media shopping for. However at my company, we’ve a number of expertise with serving to shoppers attain communities which were traditionally ignored.

So once I began understanding the outcomes that they have been trying for and the precise information factors, I spotted that this wasn’t simply placing collectively a poster that mentioned, ‘COVID-19 is right here.’ At that time, it grew to become much less of them giving me a design transient and extra of my crew going again to the consumer saying, ‘That is what this project actually must seem like.’

So we created the design transient to align with how many individuals they have been attempting to succeed in. We wanted to create messaging. We wanted to create branding. We wanted to create a name to motion. We needed to create imagery that’s visually inclusive of the communities we’re attempting to succeed in. We additionally had to consider non-traditional methods and strategies to succeed in our audiences. Placing a billboard on the freeway that’s heading towards the airport in a pandemic the place nobody is flying anymore isn’t going to work.

What was the consumer’s response?

Folks within the healthcare business are at all times working in a disaster. They’re attempting to save lots of lives. On this specific surroundings, that is greater than saving lives. There was absolute chaos round this virus. And so it actually grew to become an attractive instance of the consumer saying, ‘You realize what, we’re going to work collectively and hunker down and work out how we’re going to really make this work.’

How early within the pandemic did you begin working with them?

It was the third quarter of 2020. And the summer time of 2020 was when issues began getting actually weird. All people was sick. It was horrible. And the great that got here out of it was that our company and the consumer did the whole lot in our energy, throughout the funds that we had, to succeed in as many individuals as potential and these traditionally ignored communities that also are behind with vaccination charges.


So was the objective to encourage vaccination? Or was it initially simply, ‘Right here’s what COVID is, right here’s methods to keep away from getting it’?

We constructed a marketing campaign deliberately in order that we might transition as a result of the pandemic was altering. The unique marketing campaign was consciousness. ‘We’d like you to know that Advocate Well being Care and the state of Illinois are partnering with you that will help you get entry to care.’ It was a digital care program the place folks might make a telephone name and say, ‘I’ve COVID-19, what do I do?’ After which they may get assist.

The following section of the marketing campaign was bringing out some memoji to speak about issues like, ‘What is going to occur once I get this vaccine? Will it give me COVID? If I take this vaccine, will I grow to be sterile?’ There’s all this false data going all around the web. So, particularly within the Black and Brown neighborhood, we have been attempting to suppose: What are among the narratives which might be going down on a each day foundation? Sure issues are associated to systemic racism. And that’s the place we got here in and mentioned we have to get on the market and speak about myth-busting. Folks couldn’t inform the distinction between fact and fiction.

[Image: Birk Creative]

Why use memoji? Why not use imagery that represents actual folks?

Actual illustration turns into very difficult while you’re coping with public well being. You get into questions like, ‘What faces can we do? What ought to their options seem like? What about their pores and skin or their hair or their gender?’ So as a substitute we requested, ‘What are among the higher ways in which we are able to create one thing visible that may be relatable?’

My mom is 82-years-old, and she or he sends me textual content messages generally with memoji alone. While you’re attempting to succeed in traditionally ignored populations, the one device that everybody has is a cell phone. So this was one thing everybody might perceive.

And we hung out attempting to determine the most effective representations. We thought in regards to the audiences that the message would resonate with essentially the most, and in addition the audiences and communities that may be capable to unfold the message the quickest. So we did have the next focus [of female memoji] as a result of ladies are those who make choices oftentimes about healthcare. I’m a mixed-race Black lady, and I spent a number of time working on the Black lady [memoji] and ensuring the small print have been proper. I made certain she had lip gloss and I labored on her hair.

You might have mentioned that a lot of the advertising and design that’s meant to succeed in Black and Brown audiences is stale, clichéd, and stuffed with stereotypes. What have you ever’ve seen beforehand and the way did that inform a distinct method right here?

In the USA, there’s little or no illustration [of Black and Brown leaders] on the artistic facet. What occurs in advert businesses is you may have a number of white gaze—what white folks suppose Black and Brown persons are speculated to seem like. So you may have white designers creating issues for Black consumption, and that is America—there are a number of stereotypes and there’s racism!

Once I take into consideration how I’ve at all times approached my work, particularly once I’m speaking about illustration of Black and Brown folks, I attempt to be as genuine as potential and present dignity, grace, and respect and never present the photographs I noticed rising up—actually inappropriate pictures of Black folks in advertising.

It’s necessary for me to take a look at the work by means of as broad a lens as potential culturally. I’ve three Black sons, multiracial like me. My father is Black and had an extremely tough childhood. I convey a lens to my work the place I’m trying on the humanity of the individual earlier than their pores and skin colour. However as a Black individual, I’m additionally taking a look at their pores and skin. I attempt to be very cautious about illustration.


And it sounds such as you needed to do some little bit of that work on this case too, as a result of initially it was simply the media purchase, and also you have been capable of convey to the consumer that in the event that they wish to attain Black and Brown residents, they wanted to go larger.

Once I go into assignments for shoppers, I’m at all times considering longer-term, larger image. Particularly for one thing like this. We’re in a pandemic. It is a virus that’s taking folks out by the hundreds of thousands. This isn’t an project that I checked out and thought, ‘We’re simply going to throw up a few billboards and hope that anyone makes a telephone name.’ This was 2020. This was the world of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and a public well being disaster that was negatively impacting traditionally ignored communities particularly. I took the project very, very critically. This was a life and loss of life branding project.

See extra from Quick Firm’s 2021 Innovation by Design Awards. Our new e book, Fast Company Innovation by Design: Creative Ideas That Transform the Way We Live and Work (Abrams, 2021), is on sale now.