The Ontario government will air three COVID-19-related commercials on Super Bowl Sunday, hoping to reach millions of viewers with a gritty new message about the reality of the pandemic.
The Super Bowl ads, which the government describes as "hard hitting and emotive" will air during the pre-game show as well as the first and second half, marking the beginning of a new province-wide COVID-19 messaging strategy.
Health Minister Christine Elliott, whose office spearheaded the campaign, said the aim of the new commercials is to highlight the toll COVID-19 has been taking on the province's health-care system, with 325 people still in intensive care.
"I want people to see what is actually happening in our hospitals," Elliott told CTV News Toronto in an exclusive interview. "There are people that end up catching COVID inadvertently through family members or friends."
All of the commercials begin and end in the same way, with an innocent-looking party filled with laughter and music, before a jarring edit that transports viewers into an emergency room.
The commercials track a patient as he has a oxygen mask placed on his face, while a voiceover warns that even a "small social gathering can spread the deadly COVID-19 virus to someone you love."
"You can see the terror in the gentleman's face and then you also see the stress and strain on the healthcare worker," Elliott says referring to a person with deep marks on her face from an N95 mask.
Ford's office clarified that the government relied on stock footage shot before the pandemic for the party scenes used in the commercial.
The province-wide campaign will target people on television, radio, print and social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
Sunday's Super Bowl commercial, however, is considered to be a unique opportunity to reach millions of people across the province, with the expectation of reaching one in four adults in Toronto.
While the province wouldn't disclose of cost of the commercials or the amount to purchase airtime during the Super Bowl, the most recent spots for the football finale on CTV cost an estimated $150,000 to $200,000 per commercial.
Commercials to air well into the second wave
The new advertising campaign is set to begin months after the second wave tore through the province, taking thousands of lives and overwhelming hospitals.
The recent decline in case counts and the impending changes to the state of emergency, however, convinced the province to change strategies in messaging.
"Some people are thinking the numbers are coming down everything's okay, but it's not yet," Elliott said.
"We still have those variants, which are a huge concern, and we saw what happened in Roberta place where over 60 people died due to the U.K. strain, so we can't take anything for granted right now."
Elliott said while many people followed the new provincial orders to only leave home for essential reasons, the government noted several violations of the pandemic rules.
"Sadly we know that even during the stay-at-home order there are still people getting together in larger numbers not with members of their own household."
The commercials, Elliott says, are targeted specifically at people who haven't digested the message.
"You may think that there's not consequence, that's it's okay to do it. It's not, it's still very dangerous."