If you’ve ever had a sour stomach, you may have wondered:
Was it something I ate?
It might have been. After all, 1 in 6 Americans experience a foodborne illness every year. Epidemiologists, disease detectives at the Virginia Department of Health, track illness reporting to determine when and where there is an outbreak.
In 2015, the state health department’s Food Safety division, the folks who certify restaurants and other dining establishments are up to code, contracted with VANCE to promote their new “portal.” The phone call went something like this:
Food Safety: “Hi, we’d like to hire you to help us promote our portal.”
VANCE: “Say what?”
It sounded like sci-fi. But what we soon discovered was that all 35 health districts in Virginia were being flooded with calls and emails from citizens who believed their illness could be traced back to a health violation at the last place they ate.
Undoubtedly, this kind of information is important and helpful to restaurant inspectors and the epidemiologists monitoring food-borne illness outbreaks in Virginia, but the health department needed a way to streamline these complaints to free up food inspectors and epidemiologists to analyze and respond appropriately to foodborne outbreaks.
The portal = a contact form.
Now we just needed to people to use it.
We needed to create a campaign that would create brand awareness about a specific URL and keep it top of mind among potential users.
But why stop there?
We also saw this as a chance to help promote public health, too. After all, food safety inspectors often get a bad rap as unyielding bureaucrats ready to shut down restaurants with health violations. This was an opportunity for the health department to educate people about food safety, too.
So we created a character.
Inspired by the “disease detectives” at the Virginia Department of Health, My Meal Detective was the web portal AND the food safety ambassador all in one.
We concepted and scripted an animated online video series (produced by Photoelectric) with a “whodunnit” parody style and tone to promote MyMealDetective.com.
Each episode begins with a character falling ill. The narrator, My Meal Detective, traces the character’s steps to identify the “culprit” and provides a critical food safety tip that would have prevented the mistake. The episode closes with a short description of how My Meal Detective works and how people can put VDH “on the case.” We also used the opportunity to promote the other resources the Food Safety site offers, including recalls, restaurant inspection reports and food safety tips. Links to all of these are embedded in a landing page “banner” we designed for the My Meal Detective campaign.
Seven videos were produced for the series:
We used the videos as content for several digital campaigns on YouTube, Facebook and Google targeting Virginia adults 18+ with interests in family, cooking and health. We also provided VDH with pre-loaded Facebook posts, tweets and images they could use to get the word out about the campaign.
The My Meal Detective video series has been viewed more than 15,000 times. Roughly 1,000 complaints have been filed via My Meal Detective, leading to the identification of at least SIX foodborne outbreaks. According to a report submitted by VDH’s food safety division, “The My Meal Detective website has improved Virginia’s ability to receive, analyze and respond to foodborne illness complaints and identify foodborne outbreaks. Continued promotion and will help raise awareness of the complaint system and educate Virginia consumers on the importance of food safety.”