Humanizing an Ancient Disease

Written by Lindsay Hoppenjans, Producer and Keren Toledano, Senior Strategist

When we were first approached by the Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC) about a campaign concept and website to support the eradication of rabies, we were surprised. Frankly, the studio did not even realize that rabies was still a problem. None of our strategists, developers or designers knew someone who was affected by rabies. If anything, we referred to the disease as the butt of jokes; eliciting foamy mouthed images of dogs via Cujo or as a way to refer to someone when they are out of control, “rabid.” In short, we were insensitive and ill-informed.

What was most shocking to us was the hard fact that rabies is 99.9% fatal. Over 120 countries are still affected by canine rabies, resulting in over 59,000 preventable deaths each year. Even worse is that half the victims of the terrible disease are mere children under the age of 15. The lopsided numbers are a story of global inequality and limited access to healthcare and veterinary knowledge. Canine rabies is a forgotten disease of the poor, where nobody survives to tell the tale.

Once we understood the global impact of rabies, we knew how important it would be to create a compelling campaign to encourage others to pledge their support to end this terrible disease. We did not want people in non-endemic countries (the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France, etc.) to shirk the issue, so we developed a creative concept that reintroduces the disease in a more humanized and accessible way.

For thousands of years, man and dog have lived harmoniously, enriching each other’s lives (the colloquialism “man’s best friend” certainly rings true in the West.) But when domestic dogs are the cause of 99% of all human rabies deaths, this healthy relationship is jeopardized. The End Rabies Now campaign portrays everyday interactions between humans and their canine companions. Instead of warning against close proximity to dogs and eliciting fear, the campaign demands that “This Should be Safe.” It’s a call to arms to end rabies once and for all.

Logo

A few of our initial logo explorations

Our first logo explorations were more organic and textural, inspired by aspects of the disease itself (saliva, blood, etc.) We wanted to bring a scientific and serious lens to the issue: hit the audience with the same cold, hard facts that first shocked us when we heard them. But after the first round of reviews, we realized that approach was simply too abstract for a disease that many people held preconceived notions about; we needed to take advantage of the logo as an opportunity to begin resetting people’s understanding of the disease.

One stigma we wanted to erase was how dogs fit into the equation. GARC shared with us the need to be very sensitive to how canines would be portrayed throughout the campaign. Whether intentional or not, traditional rabies messaging often villainizes dogs as the source of the problem. In response, many countries “cull” dogs (a euphemism for inhumane slaughtering) in an effort to wipe out the disease. This practice actually does nothing to stop the spread of rabies and can sometimes make the issue worse. The real solution is vaccinating dogs. With a minimum vaccination rate of 70%, a country can create herd immunity to effectively end dog-transmitted rabies in humans.

We shifted to creating a logo that emphasized the One Health mission, which promotes the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration towards health care for humans, animals, and the environment. By putting the focus on those affected by rabies, and not on biological aspects of the virus itself, we agreed on a logo that illustrated the symbiotic relationship between humans and animals. In the final version, adults, children, and canines all look together in the same direction towards a rabies-free future.

Photography

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to dismiss images of developing nations. The adornment and clothing are different, the locals are exotic, the people often look impoverished, and it’s easy to see individuals as “others.” People in developing countries are shrouded in myths and falsehoods pertaining to education levels, family planning, religion, and government corruption. Our goal throughout the End Rabies Now campaign was to make this issue hit close to home for Western audiences and to encourage them to pledge support. We wanted to represent these diverse cultures in a respectful and celebratory manner. This goal was at the forefront of all design decisions.

As a nonprofit campaign, unsurprisingly, there was not a separate budget to account for photography needs. The biggest contribution (quite literally) was candid street photography from rabies endemic regions. We hand-selected compelling imagery from India, Swaziland, and the Philippines: just a few of the 120 countries where rabies is still a problem.

We developed a set of criteria to ensure the images chosen avoided the aforementioned cliches of the developing nations. All of the photos we selected showcased positive relationships between humans and their pets. We contacted the photographers whose images we selected to ask if they would be interested in donating their work in-kind to support the campaign. To our delight, many photographers already knew the severity of rabies and were happy to help out with such a great cause.

Photo by Baranidaran D (top left) | Photo by Sasikumar Ramachandran (top right) | Photo by Jishnu Nandy (bottom left) | Photo by Grant Squibb (bottom right)

Patterns

Exploring different textural options with the campaign photography

To give these even more stopping power, we added a folkloric pattern overlay reminiscent of textile patterns from each image’s origin. These patterns required a great deal of research to ensure authenticity. The intent behind this approach was to help convey a sense of place in the images and allow us to differentiate each of the countries in a way that celebrates their unique culture. Not only did the patterns help provide contextual background, they also added beautiful graphic shapes and colors to the campaign. This helped combat the designs from feeling flat through adding texture, depth, and warmth.

Our patterns inspired by traditional textiles from India, The Philippines, and Swaziland

Through our work on the End Rabies Now campaign, we here at Brooklyn Digital Foundry have a newfound respect for the severity of rabies. At the beginning of this project, we were shocked to learn how many people are still impacted by this ancient disease and were immediately reminded how easy it is to distance ourselves as “Westerners” from the issues which plague developing nations. We hope that our work for this critical campaign garners the worldwide attention and support it deserves so we can end this disease for good.

If you’d like to learn more about why rabies is still a threat, or even pledge your support to the cause, you can do so at End Rabies Now.