The truck had the name of a funeral home on it. But instead of a soothing thought that might double as a company slogan, the message on the side read: "Don't get vaccinated."
The black truck advertising for "Wilmore Funeral Home" delivered that blunt and unexpected message on Sunday to football fans in downtown Charlotte as they headed to watch the Carolina Panthers play the New Orleans Saints.
Many employers and public health officials are searching for ways to get more people vaccinated against Covid-19, using everything from money and free food to even lavish vacations and VIP Super Bowl tickets. The fully vaccinated account for just 54.7% of the total US population.
One Charlotte ad agency, however, decided to ditch traditional marketing strategies and take matters into their own hands.
But here's the catch.
There is no "Wilmore Funeral Home" and visiting its website takes you to a landing page instructing visitors to do the opposite of what's written on the truck.
"Get vaccinated now" pops up on the site, along with a message that says, "If not, see you soon." The ad agency, BooneOakley, had decided it was time to get serious.
"I just feel like conventional advertising is not working. Like, just regular messages that say 'Get the Shot' or 'Go Get Vaccinated' ... they just kind of blend in with everything else," agency director David Oakley told CNN. "We wanted to do something that saw it from a different perspective and kind of shocks people into thinking, 'Holy moly, man.'"
Once visitors to the site click the "Get vaccinated now" box, they're redirected to an area urgent care medical facility, StarMed, that administers Covid-19 vaccines.
In North Carolina, vaccination rates lag national numbers -- roughly 48.8% of residents are fully vaccinated.
"I think the reason we did it was because we want people to get vaccinated and I believe even if just one person gets vaccinated because of that billboard, I give it a grand success. Just one person, it will be worth it to me," Oakley told CNN.
Knowing there would be crowds tailgating for Sunday's game, Oakley said it seemed like an ideal opportunity to give people "something to talk about other than football."
Katie Guenther says it certainly did that, calling BooneOakley's approach "pretty smart marketing." She happened to be driving around Charlotte during the game and saw the truck. As it drove in front of her, she could see crowds of people looking at it.
"It was definitely getting a lot of attention," Guenther, who is vaccinated, told CNN. "At first the message was shocking, of course, until I realized it was a funeral home."
She added, "I'm not sure I've even seen a funeral home advertise and definitely not in this way."
"We share the frustration with a lot of people who aren't getting vaccinated," Oakley said. "So we were wondering, what we can we do to help? So our team was throwing around some ideas one morning."
And they thought about businesses that are dealing with some of the people who aren't getting vaccinated.
"When people die, that's funeral homes," Oakley said.
From there, the group decided to beyond a vehicle for the message to building an actual website that links people to a vaccination site. StarMed is where many people on Oakley's staff have been vaccinated.
"As a health care organization, they were a little bit, let's just say a little nervous about it," he said. "We were nervous about it too to be honest, and how it would go over. But they agreed to let us link to their site and that was phenomenal, because that's what made the whole thing work-- to me, anyway."
StarMed has vaccinated "hundreds of thousands of people" and tested just as many, according to Adam Hummell, a member of StarMed's marketing team. Since the weekend, Hummell said traffic to snag a vaccine appointment on the site has seen a significant boost.
"From the outset of the pandemic, here in Charlotte, our company has been the leader in all things Covid testing, Covid vaccines, and antibody therapy, and the reason we've done that is to is to alleviate a lot of the pressure on the major healthcare systems where they're having to take care of people in ICU, and all the surgeries that are lined up and all that stuff."
Hummell said the approach is typical of the agency, which often creates campaigns "to get people talking and raise some eyebrows," he said.
A truck that says "Don't get vaccinated" at the height of a pandemic? That might raise some eyebrows. But Oakley hopes it does more than that.
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