What’s missing from our COVID-19 vaccine advertising campaign? How could the government improve its embassies?
Last week, more than 2.5 million Australians watched New South Wales totally demolish Queensland in the state of origin’s first game for 2021.
It’s one of the biggest sporting events on the national calendar and on TV, it’s a prime promotional property.
If you’ve run a major public health campaign, perhaps to vaccinate the nation against COVID-19, this seemed like a good opportunity to get that message across.
But it’s an opportunity that federal health officials seem to have missed.
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If you can’t imagine the government’s vaccination campaign, you are probably not alone.
The ads have been criticized by some in the industry as “hard to find” and even “really boring”.
The campaign is due for a refresher, with a new campaign aimed at younger audiences starting next month.
And there are plenty of good ads overseas to find inspiration for – those that went live in France, New Zealand, and Singapore have gone viral online in the past few weeks because of their creativity and sometimes their quirk.
Experts in areas like public health and behavioral science (the science of getting us to do things we wouldn’t otherwise) say it’s overdue and critical.
Why don’t we have cool ads like abroad?
With the greatest respect for the infectious disease doctor, Dr. Nick Coatsworth, the current selection of Australian ads may seem a bit dry.
The first ads, rolled out a few months ago, were deliberately aimed at people over 70 and took on a fairly serious tone.
Some new ads that appear to be targeted at people over 40 were launched this week and, while a bit livelier, are still pretty straightforward.
A spokesman for Health Secretary Greg Hunt said the ads target a specific audience with a specific message.
“Dr. Nick Coatsworth is shown as a trusted voice in research because of his role as an infectious disease specialist and former deputy chief medical officer,” they said.
“That resonates with this age group and with those willing to vaccinate who want to know where to find their local clinic.”
Jessica Kaufman of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute specializes in promoting vaccines and said the main problem with the current campaign is that they are simply not visible.
“I think it’s not really there,” she said.
“If I’m being honest, I think it’s hard to find … it’s not very new, it hasn’t adapted very well.”
COVID advertising campaigns in New Zealand and Singapore
Given the lackluster uptake of vaccines in Australia, should the government consider an ad like Singapore or New Zealand?
She said the new campaign had to look and sound completely different.
“The speakers are very white, they are very medical, and some people trust the medical establishment and some don’t,” she said.
“And the campaign itself is pretty low-key, not made for entertainment.”
How could the ads be better?
The advertising agency BMF was hired to develop the new vaccination campaign and there are lots of ideas what they could do.
The current advertisements are deliberately aimed only at those age groups who currently have access to the vaccine.
Dr. Kaufman said the government should target everyone and make getting the vaccine seem like a normal, everyday and undisputed thing.
“It is a mistake not to speak to all parts of the community when younger people were not eligible for the vaccine,” she said.
“They’re all part of the conversation about the vaccine, everyone talking to friends and family who might be eligible.
“And people are starting to form their own opinions about the vaccine and whether they will get it.
“If no one talks to them and no one reassures them or addresses their concerns, then they may be hesitant for longer.”
Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to search, up and down arrows to volume. New Zealand published a “Ka kite, COVID” advertisement to promote vaccinations
What should they say
Convincing Australians to get vaccinated is actually a very different challenge than doing it in other parts of the world.
Everywhere in the world where COVID-19 is a very present threat, there is a clear motivation to urgently get vaccinated.
But in Australia, where significant outbreaks fortunately remain rare, that immediate risk of illness or death simply doesn’t exist.
University of Sydney behavioral economist Bob Slomin argues that reminding people of what is at stake and shaking off that complacency probably wouldn’t hurt.
He said the recent Victoria outbreak and lockdown that followed was an opportunity to remind people that vaccines are a way out of the outbreak / lockdown cycle.
“We don’t need the same level of devastation to bring people’s attention to the potential downside if we aren’t vaccinated,” he said.
“The recent outbreak in Victoria resulted in a massive intake of people who were vaccinated, breaking records almost every day for several weeks.
“And I think if at the same time we had tried to get this message very prominent across the country, to say, look, let’s avoid being Victoria … I think that would have been very positive.”
Why didn’t the government reach out to some celebrities for a complaint?
Celebrities have been a big feature in a number of vaccine advertisements around the world.
In the UK, Elton John and Michael Caine starred in an ad for the NHS.
In the US, all living former presidents (bar one) – Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter – were featured in an ad that got their taunts.
And Australia actually reached out to a former soccer star for an ad.
Mal Meninga has been enlisted to promote the vaccine in rugby league mad Papua New Guinea.
But the Australian government has not yet seen fit to broaden the immortal rugby league or any other notable celebrity.
Dr. Kaufman suggested that while the evidence of celebrity effectiveness isn’t clear, throwing in a few might not be a bad idea.
“There is mixed evidence from research on how effective, or to what extent, a prominent public health support measure really affects people,” she said.
“But it can’t hurt to increase engagement, which I think is one of the most important goals we need to strive for here.
“We want people to look at an ad, share it, watch it again, watch it with someone else, and then talk about it. All of this normalizes vaccinations.
“So if there’s a celebrity in there and that makes it more shareable, then I think that’s a good thing.”
Are ads even working?
It would be wrong to pretend that an advertising campaign can change everyone’s mind and prevent the introduction of a vaccine altogether.
However, experts argue that public health campaigns can be effective and steer people in the right direction.
Professor Slomin said most vaccine hesitations in Australia are actually quite soft.
He said a lot of people expect to get the vaccine at some point, they just don’t rush to get a vaccination.
“The vast majority of the [those who are hesitant], I think they just don’t make up their minds one way or another, “he said.
“You’re just waiting – there’s no reason why you feel like you have to decide today.”
Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to search, up and down arrows to volume. The Singapore Government Advertising Campaign To Promote COVID Vaccinations
Ads are a way of constantly reminding people to get vaccinated ASAP instead of waiting.
If they go viral and appear in (unsupported) spots on people’s social media feeds, so much the better.
But dr. Kaufman said it was just as useful to have influential local people in the communities doing this.
“The thing that actually addresses the concerns of individuals and the truly specific concerns of individual communities is community engagement,” she said.
“Training community members to answer questions, support for health care providers.
“So we can’t imagine a single ad campaign addressing hesitation.
“It’s only really there to keep an eye on the vaccination campaign and maybe to calm or normalize the vaccination for those who are only lightly on the fence.”
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