We need a shot of great government advertising now

For vaccines to enter arms, a government campaign needs to enter the community, argues freelance strategy director Lindsey Cummings.

Slip, Slop, Slap. Don’t be a tosser. Dumb ways to die. Despite these lines coming from campaigns that ran from 1981 to today, I’m sure almost all of us know exactly what they are referring to.

Australia has a stellar history with public service campaigns. Our ability to sum up complex messages in a catchy one-liner is second to none. Paired with a healthy media budget, we’ve been able to change behaviours for generations. Better yet, we’ve given people the tools to empower them to speak up when they see others ignoring the advice.:“Hey mate, don’t be a tosser. Put your rubbish in the bin, alright”.

As most of Australia is once again under a lockdown of some sort, I’m pouring one out for all the missed opportunities for new, unforgettable PSAs. Our PM has been dubbed “Scotty from Marketing” and yet, 16 months into this pandemic, the PSAs are just as hard to come by as a vaccine.

There are two simple actions we need every Australian to do if we want to minimise the duration of this bloody pandemic:

  1. We need people to wear a mask when instructed to
  2. We need people to get their vaccines when they are eligible

These are perfectly primed for a PSA each. You just need to remember one action, and they have a role for the public to help “encourage” people to do the right thing. So what are we waiting for?

Since returning to Australia from the US in November, I have yet to see any mainstream messaging about masks beyond signage in shop windows. How many of us would love a snappy line to help them remind people to wear a mask (or wear it correctly)? Not all heroes wear capes, but all wear masks.

I have seen the $24 million campaign the Federal Government developed to encourage people to get vaccinated, and no disrespect to Dr Nick Coatsworth who appears as the spokesperson, but yawn. With the tagline of “COVID-19 Vaccination: Keeping Australia COVID-safe” this is as memorable as reading T&Cs. With the constant whiplash we’re all experiencing when it comes to medical advice around vaccines, it’s hard to imagine this functional, brochure-with-visuals moving the needle at all towards public action.

We have all no doubt caught some of the campaigns running around the world. New Zealand, Canada, Singapore and Northern Ireland are all hyping their citizens up with the promise of a return to full stadiums, hugs from grandma and big, fun, over-the-top weddings. While emotionally motivating, we all know this approach wouldn’t work here because we’ve been lucky enough to enjoy those everyday luxuries for much of the pandemic. A Californian campaign saw shock treatment in their PSA as a COVID victim struggles to breathe on a ventilator. Fear-based campaigning is something many industry pundits are calling for, harking back to the haunting messages of the Grim Reaper and anti-smoking campaigns throughout the 80s and 90s, but in a time where social media is already so full of fear mongering and misinformation, do we risk this backfiring as a political stunt or “fake news”?

Then there’s the celebrity vaccination. The UK and US have already pulled out the big guns of Elton John, Dolly Parton and even Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama. Now, a dose of celebrity could do the trick here, for sure. We could even enlist some of the A-listers who have recently called Australia home while they wait for Hollywood to recover, or get the local cast of Hamilton telling the country: “I am not throwin’ away my shot!” Too far? Regardless, we don’t really need to. Because surely our most effective shot is one that leans on our legacy of memorable PSAs.

No scientist or politician would ever doubt the efficacy of Slip, Slop, Slap and Dumb Ways to Die. Regardless, the answer is certainly somewhere in this industry right now, trapped between politics and poor planning, and we need an injection of local creativity before it thaws out.

So I beg ScoMo to let his marketing team actually do their job and give the incredible creatives held hostage by these ongoing lockdowns and no opportunity for a jab anytime soon, to take a stab at creating the next great Australian PSA, so we can move on with our lives.

Surely that’s worth a shot.

Lindsey Cummings is a freelance strategy director and brand experience specialist.


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