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Wearing a mask is one of the most critical steps citizens can take to reduce the spread of COVID-19. But as of June 2020, only 66% of Illinois residents regularly wore masks outside the house. Ahead of a $5M media campaign, the State of Illinois wanted to know how to most effectively target residents that didn’t regularly wear a mask, but could be persuaded to do so with the right intervention.


Using Creative Focus, Civis ran a message test to identify:

  • Which message under consideration would be most persuasive on target audiences throughout Illinois.
  • Whether different messages were more or less effective across different geographic regions or population demographics.
  • Whether a message was likely to trigger backlash (i.e., decreasing the likelihood of wearing a mask).


Creative Focus showed that a message comparing a mask to a seatbelt or a helmet was the most effective across all key populations. This message was made the focal point of the State’s campaign. Additionally, Civis developed a risk-based model, updated weekly, to guide campaign spending and direct advertising budget where it is most needed. Since the campaign launched, mask-wearing across Illinois increased 21%.

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“Just like every aspect of our coronavirus response, the state of Illinois’ COVID communications is rooted in science and data.”

“We’ve worked with Civis to test which messages work most effectively to increase mask-wearing, participation in contact tracing and willingness to get the vaccine. With all the topics we’ve tested, we’ve seen that personal benefits are what resonate with people — meeting people where they are and giving them straight-forward reasons to do what’s right.”

Alex Hanns
Deputy Press SecretaryState of Illinois

The Right Message

Overall, “Seatbelt, Helmet, Mask” was the most effective message across subgroups, with a +3 percentage point (pp) average treatment effect (ATE). The other messages tested had neutral effects.