As the Omicron and Delta variants have led to yet another surge in COVID-19 cases in New York, the city’s Department for the Aging is taking another crack at persuading older residents to receive their shots.

While vaccination rates in the city exceed the national average, roughly one in five older New Yorkers remains unvaccinated 10 months after the widespread introduction of vaccines. Enter agency o2kl, which believes that the key to reaching the unvaccinated lies in varying the tactical mix.

After conducting interviews with unvaccinated New Yorkers, the o2kl team came to the realization that this audience found the messaging of other COVID vaccine campaigns repetitive.

“The bottom line was always, ‘Get a vaccine, get a vaccine, get a vaccine,’” explained o2kl creative director Richard Eber. “And these people resented it, because they thought there was more to the issue. They told us they stopped listening. They felt bullied and they tuned it out.”

O2kl’s attempt to break through the white noise comes in the form of Rampage, a cartoon version of COVID-19. In the campaign’s 30-second spot, Rampage introduces himself and provides an overview of how the virus attacks lungs before the spot ends with a relatively soft-sale message: “Give the vaccine another thought. Talk to a doctor.”

“We created a character who is essentially a monster – he has killed 800,000 people in this country – but we gave him a personality so people would be willing to listen to him,” Eber said. “And like most serial killers from the past who think no one will ever catch them, he sends out some clues. In his case that doctors hate him, doctors understand him and doctors are the enemy. ‘If you want to survive me, talk to a doctor.’”

Along with Rampage, the shift in messaging from “get a vaccine” to “talk to your doctor” represents an evolution in messaging for organizations like the Department for the Aging. “The idea is to make sure people feel empowered to have a conversation with someone they trust,” stressed Tracey Owens, president and co-founder of o2kl.

Eber agreed, adding, “When someone has a health concern, where do they go? To their doctor. That was the call to action – just to talk to a doctor.”

The first phase of Rampage’s New York City tour will hit TV, social media and print, with appearances on outdoor bus shelters located in neighborhoods with lower vaccination rates. The campaign is also being translated into Spanish and Yiddish.

Additional phases and other uses for Rampage, both with the Department for the Aging and other city agencies, are being discussed. “He is a traditional spokesperson; he just happens to be a psychopathic monster,” Eber quipped. “But he can deliver information in a way that no one else can.”

As for Owens, who sits on the board of the Aging in New York Fund, her work on the campaign is personal in nature. “We just want to see people get vaccinated and to be part of the solution,” she said. “As New Yorkers, this is a passion project for us.”