The government’s fear-inducing vaccine ad won’t calm the millions who still don’t have access to a jab

A misguided vaccine campaign is just adding fuel to the fire, writes Pure Public Relations founder Phoebe Netto.

The Federal Government has unveiled its latest national campaign to encourage people to get vaccinated. ‘Arm Yourself’ encourages Australians to get their COVID-19 vaccination, with images of people rolling up their sleeves, sporting stickers over their newly-vaccinated arms.

The ad is relatively tame. But then there’s another more confronting ad, which is set to be shown in Sydney tonight. The ad, which features a young woman suffering from an extreme lack of oxygen as a result of the COVID-19 virus, is an incredibly uncomfortable reminder of the life-threatening effects of the virus.

The ad creates an even more confusing addition to the already complex series of mixed messages from the government. 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.

There is a real communications issue here. The government is now outwardly encouraging people to get the vaccine, and yet, a huge proportion of the population still remains without access to it.

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.

The government’s real issue is a lack of clarity and trust around what their vaccine advice actually is, as well as when and where people can gain access to it. If this ad did its job and compelled me to get vaccinated, I wouldn’t even know if a waiting list was available.

Despite all this, there are some positives. The ad is finally making the conversation about real people’s lived experience of the virus, rather than the political football it has been up until now. This has been a big missing ingredient in this whole vaccine discussion, and it’s good to see the government taking a risk with this more confronting ad.

The distressing ad will go far in helping people see the risks of not taking action, especially those who have already had their first dose but have failed to show up to their second shot. Perhaps the ad should have employed a demographic that better represented those old enough to qualify for the vaccine.

The problem is, the ad does a good job of inspiring fear – but for the millions of Australians who want the vaccine and can’t get it, it simply feels like the government isn’t listening. We don’t need more fear, we need a clear timeline that tells us when and where we can get the vaccine.

We need an ad that addresses myths, provides clear information on how people can ask questions, and helps provide a straightforward roadmap on a subject that has a lot of misunderstanding, frustration, concern, fear, and conflicting information.

With access to vaccines still a massive issue, any advertising that appears to be encouraging young people to get the vaccine is simply rubbing salt in the wound. It makes us feel like our concerns are not being heard. Those who want the vaccine but can’t get it are simply being served more frustration with a call to action that we cannot take, with a massive dose of added fear thrown into the mix.

Before it’s even been aired, this latest ad has already become a much-mocked meme. If the government was smart enough to implement social listening tactics, then they would understand the criticism and could quickly pivot before things get out of hand. At the moment, they appear to be doing far more talking than listening, and it’s doing more harm than good.

Phoebe Netto is the founder of Pure Public Relations.


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