Mascots and missteps

Leigh Crymble
4 min readApr 29, 2022

So. We really don’t like the South African Department of Health’s chosen mascot to encourage COVID-19 vaccine uptake. If you’ve been following BreadCrumbs Linguistics for a while, this won’t come as a surprise. Because of how passionately we feel about this topic (read: the lengths we go to in order to procrastinate from real work), here’s a thread on why Bra Vax is a visual threat to national health 🧵

When we first meet Bra Vax, we are introduced to a cartoon syringe containing a murky green liquid with the top of the syringe mimicking a top hat. With his mouth stretched open, Bra Vax has a missing tooth — and rather than this looking endearing or charming, the angles used make it come across as intimidating and sinister. When he talks, his eyes appear “hooded” (small flap of excess skin under each eyebrow) giving him a fatigued — even unhealthy — appearance.

Ah Bra, South Africa’s best foot forward in the mascot department

But, this could just be a subjective opinion, right? To sense check, we went through an online cartoon database to compare signature “bad guy” features.

We present Exhibit A:

Cartoon villains from as far back as 1964


  • Angle and width of the smile
  • Arched eyebrows
  • Slender, pointed fingers
  • Beady eyes
  • Oh, and a top hat

… all visual tropes of cunning and deceit.

We then compared Bra Vax’s signature stance on the end screen of every awareness video.

Every video featuring Bra Vax ends with this frame

See the hands on hips? Body language experts suggest this pose comes across as assertive, challenging and aggressive. Add the raised eyebrows and … Mr Krabs vibes, hey? (The money-obsessed antagonist from SpongeBob SquarePants with a dedicated “Villain Wiki page”).

“But,” you may argue, “Surely in context it doesn’t play out like that?”


What strikes us as even more bizarre as far as creative decisions go is that every 👏 time 👏 Bra Vax👏 meets 👏 someone 👏 they 👏 get 👏 a 👏 fright 👏

Exhibits B through E:

Full versions available on the Dept of Health ZA Facebook page

Why would you make your pro-health mascot someone who *literally* scares the people you’re trying to persuade to vaccinate — making one character even resort to physical violence because of how startled Bra Vax makes him?!


Bra Vax, at it again …

In fact, after far too much time spent researching cartoon villains, we finally found what must have been the design inspiration for Bra Vax:

Dr Facilier from The Princess and the Frog (ranked the 8th most evil cartoon villain by the Animation World Network).

How it started; how it’s going

Agency briefed with the illustration:


UPDATE: Rather than just have a rant, we decided to give it a go ourselves. We present to you Bra Vax 2.0, our take on a vaccine mascot to try:

a) help reduce vaccine hesitancy;

b) drive vaccination (and booster!) rates;

c) at a minimum, not scare children.

If you love a free resource as much as we do, enjoy these open-source, high res JPEG and PNG images below. The only catch? If you feel the same way about 2.0 as we feel about 1.0, we challenge you to give Version 3.0 your best attempt and then share it with us.

… hopefully, together, we can co-create the medical mascot South Africa deserves.

Meet Bra Vax 2.0

Download the high res versions here.

PS: Get vaccinated xxx



Leigh Crymble

Leigh is a doctoral student at Wits Business School and the founder of BreadCrumbs Linguistics.