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Professor’s health promotion video goes viral

Video extolling the virtues of moderate exercise viewed by nearly two million people.


The plan was relatively straightforward – take a compelling message and present it in a creative way – but the result for family physician Mike Evans was way more than he expected.

Dr. Evans, an associate professor of family medicine and public health at the University of Toronto and founder of the Health Design Lab at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, has a keen interest in health promotion. Not long ago he had seen a style of animation that uses hand-drawn images on a whiteboard and thought it would be great to try the technique in a health video. “Most people are visual learners,” he reasons. He wrote a script and then brought in illustrator Liisa Sorsa – who has used the technique to “live scribe” conference presentations – and documentary filmmaker Nick de Pencier of Mercury Films.

The result was a nine-minute video shot over two days called 23 ½ hours. It counsels people to limit their periods of rest and inactivity to 23 ½ hours a day, which is a roundabout way of saying that spending just 30 minutes a day doing moderate exercise is the single best thing you can do for your health. All the claims in the video are backed by scientific evidence gathered by Dr. Evans.

The illustration work for the video by Ms. Sorsa was partly scripted and partly spontaneous, explains Mr. de Pencier. “There is an almost performance aspect to it. When you’re there, it’s kind of fun. She’s a great illustrator.”

Uploaded to YouTube in early December, it received a modest 320 views in the first 48 hours, says Dr. Evans. It then clearly found an audience and with the help of social media quickly went viral. By mid-February it was closing in on 1.8 million views.

Since the video’s launch, the three have been inundated with requests to do other projects. As well, “I keep getting asked to speak on how to make a viral health video,” says Dr. Evans. “I guess you have a message that people want to hear, and in a format that is unexpected.”

Buoyed by their success, the three plan to produce a further 10 or so videos this year on similar themes, such as dealing with stress and weight management. “The plan is not to veer much from what we’ve already done,” says Dr. Evans. “It’s obviously a successful formula.”

You can follow Dr. Evans both on his Facebook page and on Twitter.

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  1. David Bradley / February 24, 2012 at 07:43

    I blogged about this video and my post got picked up by Lifehacker, so I had a mini-episode of virality on my site with 20,000+ new visitors that day. He makes an excellent point and does it well.