Should Companies Advertise the New COVID Vaccines?
60% Of Americans Say It’s An Obligation – Businesses and Health Marketing
A growing number of iconic American brands are utilizing marketing campaigns to create awareness about the coronavirus vaccine. This comes at the same time that 40% of Americans have expressed hesitations about getting the shot themselves. Of the 60% of Americans that feel more positive about the vaccine, a Harris Poll indicates that people believe that big brands have an “obligation” to encourage vaccination. But is that really the right thing to do?
Big Brands Are Here To Help Officials Bridge A Credibility Gap
It’s a fact that President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed enabled a record-breaking speed of development and access to this vaccine. Along the way, the cure to this pandemic has been severely politicized, resulting in significant public mistrust. Contradictory statements from Dr. Fauci in respect of mask mandates and their effectiveness are just one example. The public witnessed Vice President Harris bad-mouth the vaccine in October, adding more fuel to the fire of naysayers.
Today, these same people that were against Trump’s vaccine efforts are now the ones that are working to claim credit for the success of Operation Warp Speed. Part of this is why data shows that the public has lost its confidence in public health and governmental officials. That’s why vaccine promoters have passed the torch to the private sector for help in achieving herd immunity.
To Overcome An Objection, Marketers Have To Know What They Are
Of the 40% of Americans who have hesitations about the covid vaccine, 22% of these people say that they’ll “never” get the vaccine and 18% of them said, “maybe but not right now.” While it’s true that about 12% of all Americans are life-long “anti-vaxxers,” mostly citing religious reasons, the public and private elites have made it a goal to convert all of the “maybes” and at least half of the “nevers.” Of those with hesitations, the consistent concerns boil down to questions of side effects that may uniquely impact pregnancies, cancer treatment, and auto-immune disorders.
So how do government health officials work to influence those 40 percenters to achieve herd immunity? What is the right way to answer obvious mistrust and vaccine hesitancy? So far big brands and government health officials have done very little to explicitly address these concerns.
Agency Partner CMO Adam Rizzieri joins LaMyiah Harvel of ABC News
Customer Testimonials & Case Studies: Specificity Drives Believability
Today we’re seeing an effort from big brands to influence American culture in such a way that makes the vaccine seem “cool,” while also allowing them to present as empathetic. Walgreens partnered up with celebrity John Legend in their “This Is Our Shot” commercial, flashing a montage of togetherness. Sam Adams and Budweiser, similarly, have done the same with visions of barbecues, sporting events, and friendship.
Most Americans appreciate the nostalgia of good times past while hoping for good times ahead, but in the immediate future, polls indicate that the public would respond better to more education and less indoctrination.
The Strategic Minds Behind These Campaigns
The strategy behind much of the big brand advertising that we’re seeing comes from the collective decision-making of the Ad Council, a public interest ad association that runs more than 30 public service campaigns a year. The Ad Council is a non-profit organization that is funded by hundreds of millions of dollars in donations that often come from the government and the same big brands that fill its 144-person board of directors.
About the Ad Council
The Ad Council was formed in 1942 to support President Roosevelt’s “Buy War Bonds” and “Loose Lips Sink Ships” campaigns, and the nonprofit has been the force behind Smokey Bear’s “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires” and the “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” campaigns. Today, their more recognizable ads target the dangers of vaping and Alzheimer’s awareness.
Since October of 2020, the Ad Council has been working on its covid vaccine campaign and its first spot aired on Feb 24, 2021.
Notable is the fact that marketing executives from Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson are on the board. Questionable is the fact that in November of 2020, the Ad Council worked with the Covid Collaborative to announce a $50 million fundraising goal before any vaccine had even been authorized.
Big Brands, the Air Game, and Vaccine Advertising
Walgreens, Sam Adams, Budweiser, and Google are similarly encouraging people to get the vaccine so that things can get back to normal. What we’re seeing from these big brands is called the air game — Big brands are utilizing big budgets to buy air time that is designed to influence the public.
Prior to the Ad Council’s involvement, much of the big brand advertising was more specific to how these brands can support people through hard times. Since the 2020 presidential election, Google transitioned from advertising how their platform can support small businesses during the lockdowns, to advertising how their search engine could be used as a fact-finding resource for covid-related, individual research.
When case rates began to diminish and economies started to reopen, the simple message was one of implied responsibility: “it’s up to you to be curious and seek understanding.” Today, these brands are much more direct in saying: “get the shot so we can get back to normal.”
Many of these ads seem to have the same message and almost identical taglines. This is not a coincidence.
This is likely because the decision-making was largely decided on by the collective mind of the Ad Council. In respect of vaccine marketing, the Ad Council functions as a megaphone for the White House, just as it did under President Roosevelt in 1942. Also, this is not their first rodeo. The Ad Council helped to create awareness for the polio vaccine in the late 1950s and more recently, in the 1990s it worked to spark more activity in the fight against the AIDS virus.
The Bottom Line Of This Health Marketing Effort
These ads are likely to generate greater reward than risk for big brands – but the true measure is not going to be the attainment of herd immunity. For these companies, it will be revenue growth. These campaigns help these brands stay relevant and in context with the American public without leaning into other more polarizing social topics.
With that said, these efforts are unlikely to directly influence vaccine adoption.
Americans that are on the fence want credible case studies and don’t care if John Legend and Sam Adams are trying to make the vaccine “cool.” Though these ads may be evocative, they do not contain the substance that nearly half of Americans are waiting for. Women that are pregnant want to hear from other women that have been in their shoes and received the shot. Cancer survivors and patients want the same.
If Not Directly, The Ads Will Indirectly Support Vaccine Adoption
It is possible that the ads will indirectly influence vaccine adoption.
The 60% of Americans that support vaccine advertising are slowly becoming cheerleaders and evangelists for the shot. Big brands, in fact, are succeeding at making the vaccine cool and social media platforms like Facebook have gone so far as to offer custom profile frames that say “I Got My COVID-19 Vaccine. We Can Do This.” This sort of momentum creates a social atmosphere that may open the “maybes” up to the idea of vaccination, but only over a slow period of time.
Health Marketing Takes Time, And America Is On Track
With or without these ads, herd immunity is likely to be achieved by or before the summer at our current pace. That’s why these ads pose such a low risk to major advertisers.
According to the CDC, as of May 3, 2021, 44.3% of the US population has received at least one vaccine shot, and over a third of Americans are fully vaccinated. Of those who are not yet vaccinated or who have naturally defeated the illness, many Americans may have the covid antibodies and not be included in the official immunity data. Looking closer at the age data, almost 60% of all adults and nearly 83% of all Americans over 65 years of age are vaccinated.
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