(The Center Square) – Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services spent $6.2 million on COVID advertising, which targeted K-12 students between October 2022 and July 2023.
The campaign budgeted $5 million for COVID advertising and $1.2 million to advertise COVID testing. MDHHS partnered with Ferndale-based Brogan and Partners to design the campaign, which spent $300,000 on gas station TV ads, $90,000 on influencers, and $12,696 on TikTok ads.
According to a document obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the campaign promoted “safe and healthy in-person instruction for K-12 communities” during events such as spring break, prom, graduation, and school athletics.
In March, Michigan banned TikTok on state devices other than Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s, Mlive reported. MDHHS hasn’t responded to additional questions about the TikTok spending.
The media blitz spent $750,000 for connected TV such as Roku or Firesticks, $400,000 for audio streaming, $400,000 for digital and video to target low-vaccinated counties, and $362,610 for radio. Michiganders saw ads while watching Hulu, ($350,000), Youtube ($300,000), Vevo ($237,636), and minority digital products ($200,000).
Michigan Freedom Fund Communications Director Mary Drabik said the spending, which continued after the federal COVID emergency ended, is a “waste of taxpayer dollars.”
“It’s no surprise that TikTok star Governor Whitmer is further embracing TikTok, which spies on Americans and is banned from state devices (except hers, of course.) Just weeks ago, President Biden declared the National COVID-19 Emergency over,” Drabik said in an email to The Center Square. “If Whitmer’s MDHHS is planning to continue spending for advertising on COVID testing, that would be irresponsible and a waste of taxpayer dollars.”
Other ways to reach Michiganders included advertising on podcasts, ($189,211), in doctors’ offices ($150,000), in cinemas ($109,600), on Instagram reels ($69,670), minority radio ($33,179), and Facebook or Instagram ($32,363).
The state spent $112,500 on Martin Waymire and $90,000 on Mario Morrow, two public relations firms. Another $380,000 funded agency fees, and $122,500 funded production costs.
About $1.2 million funded advertising encouraging COVID testing. Broken down, connected TV received $225,000 for advertising, minority digital was allocated $200,000, and audio streaming received $102,360. Hulu received $100,000 and YouTube got $80,097. Minority radio received $67,946. Also, minority print costs $82,586, while production costs $100,810, and an agency fee costs $91,200.
The radio campaign spanning the Upper Peninsula through metro Detroit and Grand Rapids received 17.1 million impressions.
One MDHHS advertisement in a metro Detroit Los Tres Amigos restaurant bathroom as of March 28 says, “You’re paying thousands in tuition. At least look smart. Wear a mask. Spread unity. Not COVID.”
COVID struck Michigan in March 2020, when Whitmer shuttered much of the economy, including schools, colleges, and private businesses.
Three years after Whitmer had banned nonessential advertising, taxpayers are still funding COVID campaigns.
It’s unclear what measured goal the campaign aimed to accomplish, or if the campaigns will continue. During the pandemic, Michigan paid people to get vaccinated via a vaccine lottery, but the effort failed to reach the desired 70% adult vaccination rate by July 4, 2021.