The YouTube video starts with a tightly cropped shot of a white lab coat embroidered with the name “John D. Clarke, M.D.”
The camera zooms out and Clarke, wearing aviator sunglasses and taking himself very seriously, launches into his rap, set to an earnest buh-doom, buh-doom beat:
H1N1 swine flu infection
For intervention, I bring prevention.
Dr. Clarke here I come to make your head numb …
I’m recommending wash your hands for protection
Front and back real thorough while you count 20 seconds.
Hand sanitizer, I advise you get it, why?
It makes germs die when you rub and let it dry.
Watch out, Dr. Dre, there’s a new rapping doctor out there – and he actually went to medical school.
You can see him at www.youtube.com/ USGOVHHS, home of the Department of Health and Human Services’ contest for public service announcements about flu prevention.
Launched in July, the contest aimed to enlist public creativity to get out the department’s message about washing your hands, not touching your face and coughing into your sleeve or a tissue. Entries were required to end with a shout-out to the Web site Flu.gov.
The contest drew about 240 entries; most can still be seen on YouTube.
In one, a disembodied hand takes a toothbrush out of its bathroom holder, then scrubs it across ATM buttons, a computer mouse, a car door handle, a handrail and a cat before placing it carefully back over the sink. (This is all set to dainty classical music – Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G, to be specific.)
The video ends with the text, “It’s the same as touching your mouth without washing your hands.”
“We wanted people to be creative and be funny because, frankly, that gets the message across better,” says Richard Stapleton, deputy director of HHS’ division of Web communications and new media.
“You don’t get your message across until people watch it, and if you have some dude lecturing you, not a lot of people are watching that.”
In other words, they want the message to go … viral.
“Love it,” wrote one YouTube viewer. “Very un-government-like.”
Says Stapleton: “Everybody who looks at them gets the message of ways to prevent the spread of the flu. Before we find a winner and promote that, it’s already been a tremendous success.”
The contest winner, to be announced today, gets $2,500; the PSA will be used on national television during this fall’s flu season.
John “The Physician Musician” Clarke, whose day job is medical director of the Long Island Rail Road, has been creating “health hop” music since 1997.
He wrote his 60-second PSA three months ago (plus a freestyle, or improvised, version, which is also on YouTube) before he knew about the HHS contest.
“I’m excited about it because I do strongly believe that health hop, using rap music to reach young people with health information, is effective,” Clarke says.