The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission is charged with protecting buyers from the dangers of household items, issuing recalls and teaching people how to avoid common, life-threatening emergencies like kitchen fires and ingesting poisonous cleaners.
Now that a chunk of the country’s population is spending an inordinate amount of time at home, the U.S.C.P.S.C. has increased the frequency of its messaging and channeled it through a new mascot: Quinn the Quarantine Fox.
Joseph Galbo, who runs the U.S.C.P.S.C.’s social media accounts, created Quinn and has been making memes for the agency since 2016; some of them have been archived by the Library of Congress. “Our mission is to engage, entertain and educate people about how they can stay safe in their homes,” Mr. Galbo, 33, said in a phone interview last week.
But the agency had never had to address a pandemic on social media. As the coronavirus spread and shelter-in-place orders expanded, Mr. Galbo knew he needed to cook up a social campaign quickly and update the agency’s website with critical information.
“Now more than ever, with people staying in their homes like they’re supposed to, we are fully expecting as an agency to see product-related injuries,” Mr. Galbo said. Health care systems are already overwhelmed by coronavirus patients. The U.S.C.P.S.C.’s goal is to help prevent additional trips to the emergency room.
Made with stock photos and rudimentary Photoshop skills, the U.S.C.P.S.C.’s memes may seem slapdash, but they’re carefully considered. To choose a species for this character, Mr. Galbo drew on the idiom “clever as a fox” and the whimsical-but-wily Mr. Fox from Wes Anderson’s movie “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”
With Quinn, Mr. Galbo wanted “to create a character that people could attach to emotionally, but also symbolized being clever and creative and staying on top of what’s happening around them,” he said.
The character also nods to the wartime idea of hunkering in a foxhole, as more people stay home and brace themselves for change. Of course, the agency doesn’t want to frighten anyone or issue propaganda. “Striking that balance between being cute but also serious is something we’re always trying to do,” Mr. Galbo said.
The U.S.C.P.S.C. uses data from the agency’s epidemiology department, surveys of emergency room records and product injury reports to inform its messaging; Quinn’s posts so far have focused on topics like child safety, poison control, smoke detectors, anchoring furniture and preventing falls.
“We’re always analyzing what’s hurting people,” Mr. Galbo said of the targeted approach. The agency has released several “Stay Safe” home checklists for various age groups during the coronavirus pandemic as well.
Mr. Galbo recognizes that in a crisis, many people turn to social media for answers. The agency posts to Facebook and Instagram, but most frequently to Twitter, where Quinn has become a calming, informative anchor on timelines otherwise filled with an ever-refreshing list of horrors and frustrations.
“People are coming for immediate information,” he said, but they are looking for distraction and connection. “That’s why we continue to move forward with this strategy of kooky characters teaching safety tips,” he said. “I think people are still looking for that kind of escapism.” As long as they are, the agency can try and teach them lifesaving lessons.
The agency shares a nightly message from Quinn. The fox’s face hangs in the halo of the moon and hovers over a new landscape each evening. A few lines of text relate the same message each time: “Good night, kind friends. Tomorrow we care for one another all over again. Quinn the Quarantine Fox.”
Mr. Galbo said people seem to find the regularity and positivity comforting. “When you look at the great communicators of the past, a lot of them had a nightly signoff, like Cronkite and Murrow,” he said.
He hopes that the recurring character can offer the U.S.C.P.S.C.’s followers some stability right now. “If a tiny fox in the moon brings people a little joy, it’s an easy thing for us to do,” he said. “It just helps contribute to the idea that we’re going to get through this together.”