Vaccine Advocacy: Helpful or Harmful?

By Amy Chin
Marketing Editor

Corporations and other trusted voices are banding together to encourage the American public to get vaccinated. (Photo courtesy of Hakan Nural on Unsplash)

In the latest pivot during the COVID-19 pandemic, companies have been testing the waters when it comes to advertising and marketing efforts that encourage consumers to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Since the introduction of the first vaccine, companies including Krispy Kreme, Uber, and Lyft have designed promotions that center around obtaining the vaccine. At Krispy Kreme, anyone with a vaccine card can claim one free donut until the end of 2021. This specific promotion may now be transferrable to any brand or any company. While always taken into consideration, in this case the social and political preferences of both the company and the target market are extremely relevant and influence whether the promotion will be successful or not. For consumers who want the vaccine, Krispy Kreme may reach new audiences when they redeem the free donut. For consumers who are opposed to the vaccine, Krispy Kreme may lose consumers because of this disagreement in values that some consumers give high importance to.

In another, less direct way, companies are supporting vaccination efforts through advertising. Rather than promoting something specific like a Krispy Kreme donut, companies including Unilever, Apple, and NBCUniversal are partnering with the Ad Council and COVID Collaborative to convince consumers to get the vaccine. As part of the COVID-19 Vaccine Education Initiative, initially announced in late February, these trusted companies and brands are contributing either money or ad inventory and branded content to appeal to the public. The moniker of the campaign is “It’s Up To You” as a way to target those Americans who are still uncertain about getting the vaccine. While the number of people hesitant to get the vaccine is decreasing over time, confusion and misinformation call for this PSA to reassure the public. The use of PSA campaigns is usually effective, and the Ad Council has seen success with now-classic advertisements like Smokey Bear and Rosie the Riveter. By promoting the same message across broadcast, cable, streaming, and audio, the public can be reached at a large scale and directed to the same website for information.

Both instances of vaccine advocacy emphasize a dimension of consumer benefit besides direct profit. In these times of uncertainty, consumers are looking for trusted voices and encouragement that things are getting better. By joining the over 300 brands promoting the vaccine or offering a free donut for every needle injected are ways of showing consumers that brands care. During periods of change, consistent messaging via the “It’s Up To You” campaign and positive reinforcement via free donuts are ways to encourage consumer behavior. In the case of these marketing campaigns, the impressions and metrics are less about the direct impact to revenue and focus instead on how brands and their products are seen by consumers. Additionally, the quicker the American public is vaccinated the faster companies will reenter profit-rich environments. As the summer approaches, brands are jumping at the chance of consumer spending and activities returning to pre-pandemic levels.


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