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Chemical Crew

Escape the Vape: How using illustrations powered by research help a marketing campaign

August 11, 2017

The whole process began with a lot of research. Our research team did a great job of gathering information on what kinds of campaigns work (and don’t work) well with our target audience. For example, we found out that scare tactics and “preachy” campaigns do not do well with teens and pre-teens. Rather, they prefer campaigns that focused on facts and information; and something with a healthy dose of humor was more likely to perform better. (See more on the research in Kate’s post here) So taking into account the kinds of campaigns that work well with our audience, and our client’s goals, the creative team developed a few different concepts to present to the teens. After a couple of different concept iterations, it became clear that personifying chemicals was our best option. Not only did the teens respond to it best, but it also allowed for some great interactive elements (hover effects for the website, animation dialogues, etc). So we began working on character concepts.

The overall stylistic approach changed a couple of times. Initially, we wanted to create amorphous monsters, little creatures that didn’t explicitly remind us of “dragons”, “trolls”, or anything immediately identifiable. As we began sketching characters we decided we wanted to incorporate characteristics of each chemical (color, texture, real-world application, etc.) into their appearance. The characters began to evolve, some according to their chemical’s application (Cadmium looks like a battery, Copper is actually a little robot, and Formaldehyde is an embalming jar); and some according to their physical properties (Benzene and Fluorine are gases, Lead and Manganese are chunks or slabs of metal).

Lead was originally a stylized metallic slab. We then decided to keep his overall shape, but incorporate lead’s texture and shape as it occurs naturally.


The feedback to our first iteration of Copper was that he “looked too much like a child’s toy”. In the final sketch, he is much more stylized and looks more like a robot, instead of a toy.

While we were developing their general appearance, the video team was working on fleshing out each character’s personality and drafting possible animation concepts. This was a sort of blueprint for me as I began refining each character concept and sketching out their reactions. In the case of Aluminum, the video concept completely dictated his appearance as an all-star athlete. Although his initial sketch was too human-like, we quickly refined the concept so he fit in, stylistically, with the rest of the Crew.

Original concept art and final character model of Aluminum.


In the end, I am very satisfied with all the characters and their personalities, I really feel like I have gotten to know each one very well. Creating the gif animations for the website was definitely a high point in the project for me. It was the first moment where we really started to bring them to life and play with different subtleties in their reactions. Work became play with those gifs.

Fluorine gif

Final animation for Fluorine

copper gif

Final animation for Copper

The positive feedback from our client every step of the way was very rewarding; we felt trusted in executing this campaign successfully while also taking all their concerns into consideration. It was also a lot of fun (and super interesting!) to receive feedback from our teen panel. Not only were they extremely insightful, but they seemed legitimately invested and interested in the campaign. It felt good to develop fun, creative material that will help inform teens in making better health choices.


Visit the website and read our other blog posts on the subject:
How research provided the heartbeat for a health marketing campaign
and How videos can become an integral marketing campaign tactic.