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How will marketers persuade the public to take the vaccine?

The answer is to treat it as a marketing challenge, leveraging all that we know about how to nudge consumers in the right direction.

Given how much of the year has been spent anxiously hitting refresh on updates about when a vaccine will be available, it seems crazy that now that one (or in fact several) are here, some will take a considerable amount of persuading to take it.  

A solution not everyone wants

Survey research highlights the reluctance amongst some sectors of the public to get the newly available COVID-19 vaccine(s). This reluctance varies from survey to survey with work from Imperial college putting it at around 35% (link), while both Kantar (link) and teh Royal Society for Public Health (link) estimating it at around 24-25%. The work by the RSPH is especially worrying as it highlights vastly differing acceptance of vaccination amongst different sections of the public, as reported in an analysis of the figures by BBC News (link):

  • 57% of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people said they would take the vaccine compared with 79% of white people who would 84% of high earners planning to get vaccinated, compared with 70% of low earners.
  • 14% in London were “very unlikely” to get vaccinated, the highest region for rejections
  • Women more reluctant to take the vaccine than men
  • People on lower incomes also seemed less confident about a vaccine, with a wealth gap in take-up
  • US data (from Kaiser) also suggest greater reluctance at the younger end of the age spectrum (with those aged 30-49 particularly likely to reject the vaccine compared to those aged 65+)

There seem to be a number of contributory factors behind this rejection:

  • Anti-vaxxers have been spreading rumours and safety concerns to such a degree that is a worry that they will disrupt the vaccination programme (link). These rumours, which have been rejected as baseless by all experts, include the ideas that the injections could change someone’s DNA or implant microchips used to track someone’s movements.
  • Some, particularly the young, feel that they don’t need to take the vaccine as they feel less directly threatened by COVID
  • Some are simply “vaccine hesitant” because of their innate caution

Driving participation

Most people would agree (wouldn’t they?) that it is in everyone’s best interests for everyone to get vaccinated. The more of us that get protected, the lower infection rates will be and the quicker we can get to the kind of herd immunity levels where a resumption of “life as normal” becomes a possibility. With up to one-third of the population seemingly opting out there is a genuine possibility that vaccination levels fall below the levels needs to drive an effective COVID recovery.

We need to think of vaccination as a product to be sold

If we think of vaccination as a product to be “sold” then theoretical solutions from compulsion to encouragement via incentivisation suggest themselves:

Compulsion

While not really an option in most democracies there is much online debate about whether citizens (or employees) might be forced to get the COVID vaccine. In India and China for instance this seems to be an active discussion, while there is also much legal debate about whether employees could mandate vaccination amongst their staff.

Incentivisation

COVID has undoubtedly disrupted the lives of ordinary consumers and the processes and profitability of businesses more than any other factor in living memory. One example here is the idea of “vaccine passports” which were touted early on in the crisis – the idea that foreign travel (or commuting, or theatre going, or watching your football team of choice) might only be an option for those who have been vaccinated may overcome even the most deeply held objections.

Encouragement

COVID has undoubtedly disrupted the lives of ordinary consumers and the processes and profitability of businesses more than any other factor in living memory.

  • Pick your audience: some will want to see all the evidence for vaccination while others will be totally alienated by it
  • Promote a unified approach: over the past year consumers have responded well to the idea that we are all in this together, promoting kindness, appreciation of key workers and collective shifts in mask wearing and adoption of social distancing measures – the same can be applied to vaccination
  • Making it personally relevant: even if you personally don’t feel threatened, by not getting vaccinated you are potentially putting those you care about at risk
  • Finding the right tone of voice: authoritative but not authoritarian
  • Removing barriers to non-participation in the same way that US political parties focused huge efforts on getting voters into the booths we may need to recognise that some need it to be as easy as possible to take part
  • Make it fun: The process can be gamified to set neighbourhoods or streets against each other in a competitive environment, with prizes on offer
  • Leveraging guilt: Only the truly selfish would not want to do this
  • Getting celebs on board: “Look even X, Y & Z have been vaccinated”

Segmenting the “market”

While there are numerous approaches to vaccine promotion, the fact that a variety of different reasons exist suggest that a mix-and-match approach, fitting the right response to the right group of rejectors will be key in reducing non-participation to acceptable levels.

Anti-Vaxxers

While it is tempting to want to debunk the conspiracy theories, research suggests that this is simply likely to harden the resolve of anti-vaxxers to go their own way. Every reasoned argument about why vaccination is vital will simply add further fuel to the fire of their belief that the rest of us have been duped. Getting this group to buy into the vaccine will require a great deal of empathy and patience

Vaccine hesitant

Encouraging the vaccine hesitant means using language that inherently assumes everyone will take the vaccines, making people feel they are actively opting out, rather than opting in and communicating the assumption that participation is the norm.

I don’t need it

Encouraging those who feel unthreatened by COVID is likely all about playing the societal card: we are not asking you to take it for you, but for your grannie, for all those vulnerable in society.

Not just a concern for the government

If you have got this far and are thinking “surely this is just something that the government need to worry about” then I’d ask you to think again. Vaccination is something that affects society as a whole, and all of us as individuals and as consumers. So, whether your concern is your own immediate personal health and that of your family, or getting back to work, or selling more of whatever product you make, it is something that we all need to be a part of.

That means each of us, as individual parts of a greater society have a duty to actively encourage participation and to vigorously discourage non-participation whenever we encounter it, even it that means some awkward conversations with friends and neighbours.

And brands and celebs alike need to throw their weight behind the vaccination programme. Giving the effort the backing of a well-known public face or a much-loved brand may make all the difference.

This article was written by Nick Chiarelli, Head of Trends at UNLIMITED.