“Thank you for still keeping your distance.”
by Beatrice Kaufmann and Arne Scheuermann
On the Visual Communication of the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health FOPH (Part 3)
In the third part of our series on the FOPH’s corona communication campaign, we ask about the variations in generating attention. How does a campaign remain visually true to itself, which has to take up more and more topics? (You can find the first part from spring 2020 here, the second from autumn 2020 here.)
Let’s Talk about Corporate Design
For 14 months now, Rod Kommunikation‘s information campaign for the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) has accompanied the corona pandemic in Switzerland. From the warnings of the first lockdown in March 2020, through the relaxations in summer, to the second wave in winter 2020/21 and the start of the vaccination campaign at the beginning of the year, the visual image of Switzerland’s most expensive health campaign to date, at a total cost of 22 million Swiss francs, has become a well-known accompaniment in the everyday lives of the people of Switzerland (fig. 1). No wonder, then, that its first anniversary was also honoured with a series of reports on Swiss radio SRF3 at the beginning of March.
During this year, the basic elements – the traffic light colours, the pictograms, the check mark, the typography – also accompany smaller sub-campaigns and variants such as the photo campaign for the summer season (fig. 2), the illustrative campaign “Go on and Do It!” in autumn, which is aimed at young people (fig. 3), and the current vaccination campaign (fig. 4). The common appearance is framed by the respective disruptors in yellow (“Protect Yourself and Others.” along with variations) and a recurring sender bar with the FOPH logo.
At the same time, these basic elements can be found on numerous floor stickers, signs and notices in public authorities, schools, shops, sports facilities or restaurants (fig. 5), which may also be due to the fact that most of the campaign elements are available for download on the FOPH website. It can be said that the FOPH’s campaign has become accepted as the “standard variant” for signage and information – and the numerous homages and parodies of the campaign also continue to be very popular (fig. 6).
In addition to these very sober visual elements of the infographic – which can be assigned to the rhetorical Logos – there are more and more elements of Ethos – i.e. the style level of medium impact, which mainly refers to the character of the sender and the addressees. Logos and Ethos can be understood here as two different design principles. In Logos, the factual, informative elements predominate: the aim is to convey the message quickly and clearly, for example, by means of reduced pictograms and short informational sentences. In Ethos, design approaches are used that create sympathy and credibility on the level of character, for example, through humorous headlines and narrative illustrations that enable an emotional connection with what is being shown.
In this context, two central additions stand out that expand the campaign’s corporate design: pastel-coloured illustrations and the heart symbol of the vaccination campaign. These additions to the campaign elements are directly related to the development of the pandemic. By now, people are aware of the dangers and how to handle them. Now it is also important to keep people emotionally involved and to convince them of the importance of both holding out and vaccinating.
Using Narrative Illustrations to Encourage People to Behave Correctly
The sub-campaign “Please Remain Cautious.”, which started this spring, still contains the basic elements that are important for the campaign identity (slogan with hook, sender bar). However, the colour scheme with restrained pastel tones differs fundamentally from the information campaign in the rather strong warning colours, and it becomes clear that this is a different type of information that is to be communicated more narratively and less unequivocally. The basic elements in pure print yellow also stand out all the more for this reason – in this way they clearly place the posters in the initial campaign. The illustrations use the same style as the “Go on and Do It!” sub-campaign (fig. 3), which on the one hand guarantees a certain recognisability, but on the other hand can be confusing, as the new posters are no longer primarily aimed at the target group of young people like the campaign in autumn. The cartoon-like drawings convey the message with a pleasant wink, which feels good after the visual seriousness of the original information campaign.
In the way Switzerland has dealt with the pandemic so far, the emphasis on individual freedom is an important element. The slogans (e.g. “Thank You for Still Keeping Your Distance.”) therefore do not have a prompting imperative character, but appeal to social solidarity. At the same time, they emphasise the voluntary nature of many measures. In this context, the poster series reads as a kind of “thank you” from the Federal Office to the population.
A Heart for Corona Vaccination
With the start of the Swiss vaccination campaign from January 2021 onwards, the disruptors are expanded to include the corresponding slogan and a heart-shaped sticking plaster (fig. 4). This logo is composed of various components and shows a sticking band-aid in the shape of a heart with a green hook (fig. 8).
The heart at the centre of larger information campaigns is actually a child of the 1970s: Milton Glaser designed the now iconic “I love NY” logo in 1975, and two years later New York City launched its nationwide campaign with it (fig. 9).
In Germany, the “Ein Herz für Kinder” (A Heart for Children) campaign, launched by the BILD newspaper in 1979, is a familiar visual symbol for many (fig. 10).
The visual metaphor is easy to understand in both cases: Here, the heart as a symbol of love and health generally stands for affirmative affection and devotion. The combination of the distinctive heart shape with the materiality of a small band-aid, such as one given after taking blood or after a vaccination, in turn emphasises the health-related statement and the reason for the logo’s creation.
The band-aid here stands for a healing process that has begun, as the comparison with similar motifs shows. The green hook, which is already familiar from the information graphics, then finally forms (in addition to the font) the bridge to the previous campaign (fig. 1). The choice of form, “material” and colour of the logo speaks to a positive, affirmative attitude on all three levels and thus fits perfectly into the series of basic moods set by the illustrations.
The vaccination campaign is a big challenge, as the Swiss Medicines Act prohibits advertising vaccination in general, let alone a specific vaccine. Accordingly, the campaign is only allowed to inform. The vaccination campaign should therefore ideally be didactically sensitive and enable the population to form their own differentiated opinion, as David Schärer of the Rod agency points out in an article on the vaccination campaigns launched by the Swiss Confederation and the Canton of Bern in the newspaper “Der Bund” . In a first round, trust is to be created through testimonials from health personnel. From mid-May 2021, the campaign is to become more popular and emotional.
Staying Involved and Keeping Up
Just as the pandemic itself, with its effects and underlying conditions, is influencing more and more areas of everyday life, the FOPH’s campaign is increasingly broadening and taking up new aspects and messages in a variety of visual ways. These variants can be based on the solid foundation of the “core campaign”.
However, conflicts of objectives also arise here that cannot be avoided, but must be accepted and resolved in terms of design. For example, in order to achieve a homogeneous appearance, it is accepted that illustrations that first address young people now also address everyone else. The right balance between the tried and tested (the familiar campaign) and the new (the topical, the eye-catching) is explored anew with each new variant of the campaign. The more elements a subject contains (or must contain), the more difficult it is to achieve a striking reduction.
It will be exciting to observe how the classic poster campaign will increasingly use other channels in the future to handle these conflicting goals. How, for example, will “impfluencers” (a pun combining vaccinate and influencer) be used to address young people? And it also remains open: How will the further course of the pandemic be accompanied in terms of design?
 Article in the “Bund” of 10.05.2021: https://www.derbund.ch/wir-koennen-viel-kaputtmachen-478392830783 (behind paywall)
(Image rights with the authors, exceptions are noted).