Government needs to think like a retailer in vaccine campaigning, says Russel Howcroft

Last night, on the ABC’s Q+A, 3AW Breakfast host and ad-man, Russel Howcroft put forward his pitch for a vaccine campaign creative, during a conversation over the federal messaging seen so far.

“In Australia, we haven’t had the fear that they’ve had in other parts of the world”, said Howcroft, also pointing out that the funding put aside for messaging as not cutting it.

Howcroft believes that playing on ‘freedom’ and ‘free’ won’t work for Australians, and should instead play on the interruption COVID-19 is currently having on Australian lives.

“What we would do,” as Howcroft gestured to the Q+A panel, which also featured former opposition leader Bill Shorten, MP David Gillespie, writer Astrid Edwards and former Olympian Libby Trickett, “we would put on something highly entertaining, we’ll put on a song and dance, and our performance would be rudely interrupted by a politician at a press conference, “at 11:59, we are going to be in lockdown,” with the show to be continuously interrupted by government messaging.

The central message of Howcroft’s campaign is ‘Rudely Interrupted’, that COVID keeps getting in the way of life. He suggested the tag line of ‘Live an uninterrupted life’, with the hashtag #vaxournation.

In order to get Australians out to vaccination sites, Howcroft also suggested the federal funding on vaccine campaigning is currently not cutting it, saying he was surprised by the $40 million figure quoted by the Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Russel Howcroft

“$40 million is a lot of money, but it’s not a lot of money when it comes to the communication that’s required to beat us over the head. You have to act like a retailer, retailers spend $100 million plus to get their message out.

“A friend of mine, who lives in New York said, ‘maybe what you need to do in Australia is build mock-morgues and stick them at the end of each street,’ because that’s actually what she experienced for real,” said Howcroft.

On the recent graphic campaign from the Federal Government, featuring a woman in an ICU on a ventilator, Howcroft said that he had seen evidence it had got some cut-through.

“I’ve actually seen some research that said that worked, and it actually worked very well in the New South Wales market.”

This month, Siimon Reynolds, the creative behind the ‘Grim Reaper’ campaign from the 1980s told the Mumbrellacast that fear needed to be injected into the messaging.

“It’s crazy they haven’t gone hard on ‘You’ve got to get the vaccine’. In the last ten days, it’s become apparent that it’s a problem that people don’t have vaccines.”

Howcroft also pointed to corporate campaigning as having a role to play in vaccine messaging, saying that sporting and arts bodies have a role to play, as he highlighted the Victorian Arts campaign this week, as well as Heineken’s vaccine campaign overseas, and dating app BLK’s vaccine jingle.

At the start of last week, some of Australia’s industry heavyweights commented on the latest round of federal vaccine campaigns.

Elsewhere we have seen campaigns from Melbourne Airport, Nine and Qantas encouraging Australians to get the jab.

Shorten commented on the current progress of the vaccine campaign by saying that the government messaging has created a ‘cloud over the AstraZeneca” which has undermined confidence, staying that you can have all the campaigns in the world, but they need to be backed up by facts.

Gillespie said that the Australian vaccine rollout has “taken off”, with 184,000 shots in the past 24 hours, with one million a week a sustainable target as of now.


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