The CDC’s “Zombie Comic”: How Can Other Agencies Grow Creativity Like This?

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This topic contains 21 replies, has 19 voices, and was last updated by  Sterling Whitehead 8 years, 8 months ago.

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  • #144132

    Attachment-TheComicBookHave you seen this? The CDC has come out with a graphic novel to illustrate the importance of being ready for an outbreak.

    USA Today has the story:

    According to the story:

    “The comic book went live on the CDC’s website on Friday, with no fanfare. It has already been a hit at New York’s ComicCon, a gathering of fans and creators of comic books, graphic novels, games, and other media. There, Ali Khan, director of the CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, passed out copies and spoke on a panel titled ‘Zombie Summit: How to Survive the Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse.'”

    You can get the comic book here:

    How did they get away with this?

    Read on, from the story:

    “This isn’t the CDC’s usual M.O., (David) Daigle (of the CDC Preparedness Office) acknowledges.”

    “In May, Daigle and CDC health communication specialists Margaret Silver and Catherine Jamal were writing their annual Emergency Preparedness blog item with Kahn. The somewhat-dry piece urged Americans to get ready for disaster by putting together supplies such as water, food, flashlights, extra medications, first aid materials and batteries.”

    “The trouble was, although millions of Americas are affected by emergencies each year, few read the CDC’s advice. ‘Typically, we’ll do a blog and it will get 1,000 to 3,000 looks,’ Silver says. So they pondered the matter and realized that while preparing for emergencies was dull, dull, dull, and zombies were hot, hot, hot.”

    “The result was the CDC’s breakthrough “Social Media: Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse” blog, a tongue-in-cheek discussion of how to prepare for a zombie apocalypse that coincidentally led readers through steps necessary to create an emergency kit and prepare their families.

    “It was posted May 16. “Then we waited two days to see if anyone got fired,” Daigle says. When they weren’t, they began tweeting and posting about it on Facebook.

    “That’s when the apocalypse really did hit, in a wave of interest so strong it crashed the CDC’s blog server. ‘By Friday, we were trending worldwide on Twitter and the phone was ringing off the hook,” Silver says. The page got more than 3million views and 500 comments. “Most of our blogs get maybe five,’ she says.

    “There was some gnashing of teeth by pundits who said the CDC was wasting the public’s money. but Daigle points out that the total cost to the taxpayer was just $87, to buy a stock photo as an illustration. ‘We got an estimate for the blog that it’s worth $3.4 million in marketing value.'”

    “That’s a lot of Americans ready for the next zombie invasion, or tornado, for that matter.”

    ‘Our heads were spinning. There were T-shirts, book offers, we had calls and e-mails,” Daigle says. With their creative juices flowing and the number of natural disasters this year climbing, he and Silver started to think how they could get more people thinking ahead.'”

    Basically, as I see it, the CDC took a chance.

    My question is: What kind of culture does it take to promote similar risk-taking? How can communication leaders be ready for blowback (in addition to showing return on investment – for example $87 for a photo vs. $3.4 million in ‘marketing value,’ though I’m not sure how that was measured.)

    What do you think of all of this? Personally I am wowed.

  • #144176

    Sterling Whitehead


  • #144174

    David Reinbold

    I love it! I think a lot of organizations and government agencies are afraid to deviate from their “brand” or “culture.” This is not something I think any person would have expected the CDC to produce, but it’s memorable and effective.

  • #144172

    Carol Davison

    A cultlure that rewards risk taking will have risk takers.

  • #144170

    Jay Johnson

    I think zombies are cliche, but you can’t argue with results. Kudos to the CDC for using pop culture to inform the public. Now excuse me, I have to prepare for the zombies…

  • #144168

    Pam Broviak

    It’s great! Let’s face it – in government we need to educate citizens about things that on the surface might appear boring to them. And usually we end up investing time and money into material that is never used. This is a great example of how to cost effectively reach and engage people so they actually read and understand the material we offer. Just because it’s packaged in a fun way doesn’t make it bad – it’s actually quite brilliant!

  • #144166

    Sandy Ressler

    totally awesome!

  • #144164

    Kate Lilja Lohnes

    Very impressive! The CDC has used several innovative communications strategies over the years, and this is another great example of stepping outside the box.

  • #144162

    Jeff Ribeira

    Just gave it a quick speed read, and I gotta say, it’s quite well made. Besides the checklist at the very end, the story itself isn’t the most educational, but certainly entertaining and therefore a great motivator to take real action. Well done, CDC.

  • #144160

    Kevin Lanahan

    We had been planning a zombie page for a while. The hardest part was getting administration to understand that, if you want to reach more people, you can’t just say the same things over and over. You have to try something outside the box and outside your comfort zone.

    Part of the appeal of social media is that it puts a personal spin on government. I loved it when the CDC did their zombie post, because I knew they were trying to push their message and everyone had grown numb to it. Putting it in a zombie post got people to read it. I read the comic book, too, and started taking an inventory of my emergency supplies.

    Reframing the question makes you look at the question/problem/situation differently and helps you reach a different conclusion. I’m glad the CDC was willing to invest some time to do this right, and kudos to the managers that were willing to take the risk.

  • #144158

    Erica Schachtell

    that comic is absolutely brilliant. Regarding the quote from the article, that seems to be the approach for trying new things that aren’t officially approved by agency policy handbook manual directives: “JUST DO IT and then wait and see if anyone gets fired. If no one gets fired, KEEP GOING!” It’s a laughable policy toward innovation, but it seems to be the only way agencies can protect themselves and allow creativity: enforce a system wherein innovators must go out on a limb, then either fire them or claim credit, depending on the response.

  • #144156

    I don’t even know how we could top this…that would be an interesting discussion. My daughter had an idea about using Xbox kinect to come up with a game. That could be cool used right.

  • #144154

    Nateria Dickey

    Now that is thinking outside the box! WOW!!! I like it!

    Agreed Carol “A culture that rewards risk will have risk takers”

  • #144152

    Elliot Volkman

    This is great! One of our editors actually just interviewed the folks at the CDC who created this. You can tell they had a lot of fun doing it. [Interview]

  • #144150

    Well put indeed!

  • #144146

    Molly Moran

    I did something similar (but on a much, much smaller scale) a few months ago. We needed to create a one-page handout for new employees that informed them of the most important things to know about IT security at State (in our office). We wanted to make sure it stood out from all the other handouts people get when they’re new. I’ve attached the “before” and “after.” You can probably figure out which is which. 🙂

  • #144144

    Dawn Lautwein

    I love the password example! Nice work

  • #144142

    Gary M. Morin

    And, likewise, a culture that punishes risk takers won’t have creativity or risk taking.

  • #144140

    Gary M. Morin

    I agree! it’s an unwritten policy of “plausible deniability,” until management can find a way to take the credit yet never take the blame.

    • “enforce a system wherein innovators must go out on a limb, then either fire them or claim credit, depending on the response.”
  • #144138

    Erica Schachtell

    Molly, this is great!! nice work!

  • #144136

    Lara Haehle

    Fabulous! Now if only all of us can harness the marketing power of zombies… Thanks for sharing!

  • #144134

    Jeffrey J Kontur

    To echo Gary,

    It’s not enough to reward risk takers (which most managers interpret to mean rewarding risks that pan out), you have to actively tolerate and encourage some amount of failure. Without it, there is no risk taking.

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