Case Study

Evidence-Based Social Marketing Campaign to Prevent COVID-19

Educate the Penn State University community about the virus and promote guidelines for health and safety.


A precisely driven multi-channel campaign to motivate students to sign and abide by a compact that stipulates mask wearing, social distancing, and testing, among other COVID-19 prevention guidelines, and reduce fear and anxiety among parents and vulnerable, higher-risk community members, including faculty, staff, residents, and students with risk factors.


20% of students surveyed over the summer indicated that they did not intend to adhere to guidelines around wearing masks and social distancing. Integrating prominent, clear communications with University health and safety guidelines was essential in the effort to influence their behavior and enforce compliance among this resistant portion of the population.


Focus group discussions with faculty, administrators, student leaders, landlords and community leaders informed effective and persuasive, urgent, yet empathetic peer-to-peer messaging and content to compel those returning to Penn State campuses in the fall to follow the university’s guidelines to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.


One universal campaign, “Mask Up or Pack Up,” addressed the shared desire to keep school open—coupled with sub-messaging aimed at distinct special interest groups and their priorities for keeping school (safely) open.


Three-phase rolling launch previewed campaign to all stakeholders; amplified campaign as students arrive to campuses and sustained campaign momentum through steady drumbeat of messaging throughout the semester.


  • Average across persons total exposure is over 40 times (from all sources).
  • Incidence of COVID-19 at Penn State University did not increase among faculty, administrators, student leaders, landlords and community leaders.