The Inside Story Behind 「We are Viruses PROJECT」

25 February 2021

The Inside Story Behind 「We are Viruses PROJECT」

“We are Viruses Project,” launched in the midst of COVID-19 in 2020 by TBWA\HAKUHODO and Dreams. inc., is a project to educate children about viruses and the importance of handwashing to prevent viral infections.

Since its launch, the project has evolved to deliver a wide range of activities, including colorful and cute characters that capture the traits of 6 different viruses – Noro, Influenza, Corona, Sars, Adeno, and Ebola, a fun theme song sung by a famous educational YouTuber and comedian Yoshio Kojima, as well as the release of “POCKET SOAP”, which disappears in 30 seconds.

On behalf of this project team, we asked the project leader, TBWA\HAKUHODO’s creative director Yuhei Ito, about the story behind the beginning and the future of the project.


It all began with a single mail

Q. How did the idea of “We are Viruses” come about?

It all started with a single email sent by CCO Kazoo, at a time when the effects of coronavirus was started to get noticed and remote work was just beginning. All it said was, “Why don’t we make a small hand soap that disappears in about 30 seconds?” It was an idea that came to Kazoo when he saw how the children around him didn’t like to wash their hands and wondered if he could make hand washing a fun time.

I genuinely thought it was a very exciting idea. I thought it was our job to use our ideas and designs to take action in difficult times like this. Also I was actually worried when I saw my two-year-old child touching things with her bare hands and putting things in her mouth on a daily basis – so I volunteered right away.

With several other volunteers the project started. Keeping in mind that the purpose of the project was not just to make a soap, but to “educate” children to understand about viruses, we brainstormed together to solidify the plan about the character design, soap structure, if we should make it into an actual goods and how to hold awareness-raising events.

For product development and sales, we looked for a partner who could make soap with us, and luckily found Dreams Inc., a company that plans, manufactures, and sells creative household goods, and we presented our idea to them. Fortunately, they sympathized with the purpose of the project and we were able to proceed with the development very quickly.

The Inside Story Behind 「We are Viruses PROJECT」

Q. How did the team create the original song “We are Viruses”, sung by Yoshio Kojima?

As we were developing the POCKET SOAP, it was becoming a good product but we reminded ourselves that our goal is to promote understanding of the importance of hand washing and prevention of viral infections among children, so it is not enough to just sell the product.

It is often said that from now on, it will be the “era with viruses”, not just “era with coronavirus”. In our research, we found out that most viruses can be washed away with 30 seconds of hand washing. Though viruses are invisible and frightening, if we learn and carry out preventive measures, we can protect ourselves. We thought it was crucial to convey this message and belief to the children.

So we thought that if we make the message into a song that children can sing along, they would be able to learn about viruses naturally. So with the lead of our copywriter Shohei Ooishi, we came up with lyrics that incorporated the characteristics of the six viruses.

When we were discussing who should be the singer of the song, we thought a famous comedian Yoshio Kojima could be the perfect candidate to make more children to enjoy singing. When we requested he supported the purpose of this project, and thanks to him, we were able to create a very fun song.

The Inside Story Behind 「We are Viruses PROJECT」

Q. What were the points you paid careful attention to in creating the characters and the song?

As handling topics on viruses is a very sensitive matter especially nowadays, we were very careful about selecting viruses and avoiding misinformation. In addition to researching the information published by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, we also consulted doctors and experts for their opinions as we proceeded.

On the other hand, it is difficult to make a song that children would want to sing along to, if you just tell the facts seriously. So we made sure that the lyrics were written from the perspective of the virus rather than from that of the human to give a fresh viewpoint, and to keep the tone and manner upbeat and fun. “Anti-virus measures” is a very heavy topic when taken seriously, but in this age of continued pessimistic news, we wanted to make it something that could be sung cheerfully.

The Inside Story Behind 「We are Viruses PROJECT」
The Inside Story Behind 「We are Viruses PROJECT」

Pioneering a New Business Model for Agencies

Q. Tell us how you became partners with Dreams Inc.

When we were looking for a partner for soap development, we came across with the “Tablet Soap” on Dreams’ website – something that was close to what we wanted to create for the project. When we first met the CEO of Dreams, he told us how he created the tablet soap based on his own experience of washing his hands after suffering from a virus as a child, and how he has never been sick since he made a habit of handwashing.

Apparently it was the first time for Dreams to start a project that was directly brought in like this, but they were happy to support and endorse it. Of course, they had confidence in TBWA\HAKUHODO itself, but they also shared enthusiasm for this project because of its good purpose and because it matched their philosophy of “products with ideas”.

The Inside Story Behind 「We are Viruses PROJECT」

Q. Most of the works of advertising agencies are based on creating from the client’s needs, but “We are Viruses” Project is completely new in that it is the opposite of the mainstream, where a plan is created first from the agency and then a partner is found to match the plan.

Exactly. Since we don’t receive fees from clients like we do for regular advertising work, how to minimize the cost and secure revenue has been a big issue for us as the project proceeds.

As long as we are working as a business, we have to make it profitable. From that point of view, since so many things of the project were our first time doing it, it took a lot of time to figure everything out – and eventually how to manage the total labor cost became a big challenge. We made it through by controlling the distribution of resources, such as dividing the tasks into short periods of time in order to reduce labor costs. I believe in the future, to make this business model more profitable, there constantly needs to be several projects running within the company, accumulate know-hows, and create a system that allows members to proceed efficiently.

I think that being involved in developing new businesses is a good way for a company to expand its possibilities and also to improve the skills of its employees. This time, since the project started from within, we had to work together as a team of in-house members for the entire process from product planning, finding partners, actual product development, package design, advertisement production, and PR. Even in such constant challenges, I realized once again that advertising agencies are full of people with so much potential who can do so many different things, from planning, character and song creation, web design, photography, and event planning and management. The project team is like a start-up with a group of elite people. Therefore, I think that continuing to implement projects like this in the future could be a new opportunity for not only TBWA\HAKUHODO but also the advertising industry.

Q. What were the most challenging things?

Creating a product from scratch was a challenge that no one had ever experienced before, so having to learn every single thing from scratch was tough. We had to decide what the specifications of the soap should be, how many tablets should be in a box, what we should write on the back of the package, what the price of the product should be, and so on. With the help and expertise of Dreams, we were able to give shape to the project one by one. Securing sales channels and creating a sales platform to sell the products in real stores would not have been possible without the know-how and achievements of Dreams. I was once again reminded of the greatness of the manufacturing works.

Due to budget constraints, we could not outsource most of the work this time, so we had to do everything ourselves. For example, Nagisa Toya, our designer, studied really hard about cameras and Capture One (software) for the still photography, and she took the photo of Yoshio Kojima. Also Takao Mizumoto studied creating websites from the ground up and created the basis of the project website. It was also the first time for us to create lyrics and videos for children, so we looked at and researched all kinds of content for children. The events were all produced by us, from setup to arrangement and operation. We had to negotiate with a celebrity by ourselves for an ambassador contract. Tsutomu Hirakue, who was in charge of project operation even said, “I’ll go get a contract even if I have to wear only my underwear!” Thankfully, it turned out that Yoshio Kojima agreed with us, so he didn’t have to go through any embarrassment!

It was definitely challenging but I didn’t find it painful. The days were fun, it felt like as if we were all back in school days preparing for school events.

The Inside Story Behind 「We are Viruses PROJECT」

Protecting Children’s Health through Handwashing

Q. When did you feel the sense of achievement most throughout this project?

I am always happy when I see POCKET SOAP for sale in Kinuta Park or at Tokyu Hands, which I often visit, or when I see children actually singing the song “We are Viruses” and washing their hands with POCKET SOAP.

Soon after the launch of POCKET SOAP, we held a hands-on event for parents and children at Koganei Park. Even though it was a very cold day, when I saw children happily washing their hands in the park, I knew the idea was not a mistake. I was struck by the number of people who said, “I realized that my usual hand-washing time was too short,” or “I learned for the first time that washing hands properly for 30 seconds washes away the virus. Through the song “We are Viruses” and “POCKET SOAP”, we would like to further spread the understanding of the importance of hand washing.

The Inside Story Behind 「We are Viruses PROJECT」

Q. What are to come in the project in the future that we can be excited about?

We are currently planning an event with our ambassador Yoshio Kojima to interact and educate children. Since the spread of the corona infection is continuing unfortunately, we are still discussing whether to make it a real event or not, but we hope to make it a place where everyone can enjoy learning while having fun and singing

We are also planning to make a video of another ambassador, T-teacher, talking about the importance of 30 seconds, as well as creating a “We are Viruses school” to let people know how to properly wash their hands and learn about viruses.

One of our ultimate goals is to educate more people about hand washing with “We are Viruses” song at nursery schools and kindergartens across the country. In order to achieve these goals, we need more tools, and it is also important to expand sales of POCKET SOAP, so we would like to focus on promotion as well.

The “We are Viruses PROJECT” has just begun. The entire team will continue to do our best to help as many children and their parents as possible. We believe that the spread of the new corona will soon be controlled, but we will still continue to live with various viruses, so the importance of hand washing will never change. I will be happy if we can protect the health of as many children as possible through this project.

The Inside Story Behind 「We are Viruses PROJECT」

TBWA\HAKUHODO We are Viruses Project Members

Executive Creative Director – Kazoo Sato
Creative Director – Yuhei Ito
Copywriter – Shohei Ooishi
Copywriter – Ruka Mochizuki
Art Director – Aya Naito
Art Director – Takao Mizumoto
Character Designer & Photographer – Nagisa Toya
Head of Producer – Tsutomu Hirakue
Senior Producer – Wataru Ito
PR Planner – Kyosuke Hashimoto
Producer – Yutaka Sato
Director – Shinri Abe
Motion Designer – Kiyotaka Sumiyoshi

We are Viruses on Social Media

●We are Viruses Official Website
●POCKET SOAP Official page

We will continue to introduce TBWA\HAKUHODO’s exciting projects in coming episodes. Please stay tuned!

Communication Team(