Arm Yourself: The industry response to the latest government Covid-19 campaigns

Mumbrella asks Australian industry experts for their thoughts on the two new vaccination campaigns.

Following the two new COVID-19 vaccination campaigns that emerged over the weekend, Mumbrella went to a range of industry leaders to get their thoughts on how the government is encouraging Australians to get the jab.

Here are their responses:

Adam Ferrier, founder of Thinkerbell:

“Like everything in the vaccine rollout these ads are late, confused and full of mixed messages.

Cornering one of Australia’s best agencies and making them produce something so convoluted is no mean feat.

Firstly the ‘fear’ ad. Fear appeals work but are normally reserved for when you want people to ‘not’ do something (eg scare people into NOT speeding, scare people into NOT having unprotected sex (thanks Siimon) I’m not sure if you can scare people into actually doing something, in this case, going to get immunised.

Secondly, a lot has been said about the talent and that she wouldn’t have access to the vaccines anyway!

Then there’s The Brady Bunch ad. This is boring and created by committee, but showing lots of arms getting jabbed would have been rationalised as ‘social norming’, and may well just trigger some people to go earlier. That is it will probably have some positive effect (but then again most ads do).

However across the two ads (and maybe more) where are the distinctive brand assets which together act as triggers to go get vaccinated? The complete disconnect between the two is another missed opportunity?

Finally, what is it about our culture that stops our federal government doing something creative? Why give this brief to some of the best creative minds we have and make them do this? It’s fascinating how dry and rational our government communications has become. This advertising is bordering on irresponsible when it’s something as important as immunisation. the federal government should be evidence based when trying to change behaviour and the evidence would suggest significantly more creativity is needed to engage on this issue.”

Siimon Reynolds, chair of Buyers Circle, and responsible for the 1987 ‘Grim Reaper’ advertising campaign:

The man credited with creating Australia’s most powerful public health campaign of all time told Mumbrella it is “bizarre” that there are two completely different campaigns running at the same time, and that they take completely different tactics.

“One attempts to put out a general message saying nothing more than ‘get vaccinated’. The other attempts to make people fearful of what could happen.

There’s no point in spending tens of millions of dollars just saying the statement, ‘get vaccinated’.”

[Arm Yourself] It’s a very very strange campaign to run.

The second one [the graphic one] follows the rules of effective advertising. It captures attention, creates an emotive response, it is super simple and asks you to do something in a clear way; these are the basics of advertising. It could be more stunning… and magnetic, impactful, but it is pretty good, in the scheme of things.

Simple, direct and will affect people. That is what healthcare advertising should be doing.

The woman in hospital ad could be 50% stronger if they had taken the same casting approach as the Victorian Roads campaign that was so successful, in that it looked like they were real. This is 20% too slick in my view.

Good healthcare advertising is difficult.

The ones who really need marketing are the 30% who may not get vaccinated or may take a year-and-a-half to do it – that needs aggressive advertising. To waste months and months, and priceless time doing soft ads that are not going to change minds, could cost a lot of lives.

If they had done a strong campaign straight of; they could have sculptured millions of Australians’ attitudes to what they wanted them to think.”

Megan Kay, managing director, Zenith Media Australia:

Megan Kay

“With the bar being set quite high in some overseas markets, I have been looking forward to seeing Australia’s approach. You can see what they are trying to achieve in the ‘Arm Yourself’ creative, but overall it left me feeling a little underwhelmed.

There is a clear absence of a strong emotional pull and it doesn’t convey a consumer benefit, both of which are desperately required to overcome vaccine apathy in many Australian audience segments.”

Denis Mamo, CEO, White Space Concepts:

“Both campaigns are advertising a product (vaccine) that barely exist, and is difficult to access. So with that starting point the ‘arm yourself’ campaign could be for the flu shot, so where’s the insight into our current situation? The woman dying tells me nothing I didn’t already know, and it’s not scary because it looks acted. Many years ago an immunisation ad for whooping cough featured, distressingly, a real baby with whooping cough struggling to breathe, at the time the most effective Federal Govt immunisation campaign ever created for the illness.)

Creativity can help solve many issues but making sure there are enough vaccines isn’t one of them. No marketer would mount a campaign without enough stock being available particularly in a life or death situation. Or feature the exact target market that can’t get enough access to the vaccine.

The most motivating factor to get the jab is the extended lockdown Sydney’s about to go into. If that isn’t motivation to be vaccinated, what is? Costing billions. Unable to see family or friends. How much motivation do you need?

McCann’s classic ‘truth well told’ is missing here.”

Dee Madigan, executive creative director, Campaign Edge:

“It’s a really tough brief.

‘How to make it seem like we’re encouraging vaccinations without actually motivating people enough to book for a vaccine (given we don’t have enough)’

I don’t hate it.

It’s got an idea in, it’s got a call to action. Is it going to be enough to cut through and motivate people? Probably not. Is it a million times better than the Govt’s previous ads on Covid? Yes.

I’d have tried to source real footage for the Sydney version or cast someone old enough to qualify for the vaccine.”

Gerry McCusker, author of Public Relations Disasters and owner of The Drill crisis simulator:

“These ‘Arm Yourself’ ads seem strategically aligned with the government belief we’re ‘in a war’ with Covid.

#Healthcomms veterans will know that public health campaigns mainly need to be easy to understand and to the point.

Sure, this creative tack may lack some sexy PR angles (and ensuing coverage) but you can’t get more ‘to the point’ than Ads that show the precise locus you want your audience to focus on.”

Phoebe Netto, founder and managing director of Pure Public Relations:

“Scott Morrison has already befuddled Australians with the claim that under-40s can get the AstraZeneca jab, despite the country’s top medical body advising against it. Now, with this latest ad, the government’s latest tactic appears to be frightening young people into getting the vaccine – a vaccine that young people can’t actually access under the current system.

“Hesitancy is a very real problem, but it isn’t as much as an issue with the younger demographic that the government appears to be targeting in this fear-inducing ad. While vaccine hesitancy is still an important point that the government needs to tackle, with demand already outstripping supply, this ad is merely adding fuel to the fire of Australia’s frustrations.”


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