By the end of March 2020, the situation created by the pandemic around the world was increasingly apparent. The importance of covering one’s mouth and nose as an immediate measure to slow and perhaps stop the virus's spread also becomes gradually apparent.
In the midst of this, The Times of India launched a path-breaking initiative, #MaskIndia, during the first week of April. The initiative recognised that masks offering a higher degree of protection, such as the N95 and surgical masks, were in short supply and needed to be conserved for use by doctors and healthcare workers.
Those health workers would find themselves in the frontline of this war against the pandemic — a war that was in a nascent stage in India in March yet was expected to be severe in the months to come. The campaign encouraged every Indian to cover his or her face with a handily available cloth — be it a handkerchief, a dupatta, or a gamchha. The ready availability of such a cloth was a deep insight that ensured the initiative cut through social segments and geographic boundaries.
The extent of the initiative was realised when Prime Minister Narendra Modi wore a homemade mask in a conference appearance. He also appreciated the Times Group’s pioneering effort in creating awareness at a critical time when the country was short of protective equipment even for healthcare workers. It was a reaffirmation of TOI’s thought leadership once more.
The first phase of the initiative was aimed at spreading awareness of the importance of mask-wearing. With www.maskindia.com as a hub, it encouraged users to take a selfie of themselves wearing a homemade mask and upload their pictures on the Web site. The best pictures were also published in the newspaper.
All media channels of the Times Group came together to join the cause of the nation. The initiative was co-owned by all print publications of the group, by the television channels, on radio, and was taken far and wide through diverse online platforms.
The results were there to see. More than 107,000 readers uploaded their photos, joining this movement to protect their fellow citizens. The campaign Web site garnered close to 5.7 million pageviews, with total daily active users on the Web site close to 3.5 million.
Celebrities joined hands with us, from leading Bollywood stars to celebrated artists, radio jockeys, the newspaper, related online platforms as well as television channels. They all became a stage for people to show off their homemade masks. The renowned sand artist Sudarshan Pattnaik was inspired by the campaign to create a sand model of a masked figure in his unique style.
The second phase of the initiative began in late April. This was a time when the country’s authorities were beginning to plan to ease many restrictions. Cases were mounting, and it was even more critical for everyone — without exception — to mask up while going out.
With the renewed objective of getting everyone to wear a mask, it was important to also reach out to those who felt a sense of machismo in not wearing a mask. The message was thus recrafted, and the mask was now communicated as a lifestyle and fashion statement. The device used was a video of the Mask India message — made entirely interactive with functionality that allowed users to upload up to four pictures, of themselves, their family, and friends wearing homemade masks.
Furthermore, TOI is also walking the extra yard in certain cities in ensuring reader safety by giving a layer of protective material within the newspaper as a layer within the mask. For us, the safety and empowerment of our readers are foremost.