I serve on the board of the Ad Council, which has run iconic public service campaigns such as Smokey Bear, Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk, Love Has No Labels and many more since the 1940s. Led by the inimitable Lisa Sherman, the Ad Council has stepped forward and decided that, after months of continued Covid-19 response campaigns, it must answer the need to put its creativity and muscle behind the largest and most critical communications effort in our nation’s history: an initiative that will educate Americans about the Covid-19 vaccines.
While many across the country have already started the vaccination process, information deficit and distrust are still driving hesitancy, especially among communities of color who have also been hit hardest by the pandemic. To give some context for the urgency of this work, 25 percent of Black Americans are presently committed to getting a Covid-19 vaccine when it’s available to them, with 24 percent open but uncertain, and 39 percent skeptical or resistant. Additionally, the Ad Council’s research shows that Black and Hispanic Americans, who are undecided, are significantly less confident they have enough information to guide their decision about getting a Covid-19 vaccination, compared to those intending to get vaccinated. This highlights the need for a bespoke effort reaching communities of color who have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19 and where there is considerable distrust in the government and medical community and low vaccine confidence.
According to new Ad Council research fielded by Ipsos Public Affairs in mid-February, approximately three-quarters of consumers who have low vaccine confidence say they want information to address their questions about the vaccines, even if vaccines are not yet available to them. Further, the research shows that approximately 40 percent of the public have not yet made a firm decision to get vaccinated as soon as vaccines are available to them.
The Kaiser Family Foundation’s January Vaccine Monitor showed us that politics play a role as well, with 64 percent of Democrats saying they have been vaccinated or want the vaccine as soon they can get it, compared to only 32 percent of Republicans who say the same. There are concerns about side effects, questions about the speed of the development process, distrust of government and companies and conspiracy theories on social media, all fueling the myriad of questions Americans have and preventing many from being confident in the vaccines.
The Ad Council’s Covid-19 Vaccine Education campaign, developed with COVID Collaborative and grounded in research and science at every step, will focus on the “moveable middle,” Sherman said. “We need to acknowledge the concerns. We will make a human connection on the benefits of vaccination. We will focus on self-protection and education, not demanding participation. We will not focus on this being the ‘right thing to do.’ We will avoid over-promising. Instead, we will help people remember that they are missing moments, such as going to church or dropping the kids at school. Our goal is to get people ready when it is their turn to be vaccinated.”
The campaign platform is “It’s Up to You.” Among the tools to be used in the campaign are all the comprehensive communication tactics you’ve come to expect from the Ad Council: a multi-faceted PSA campaign and a user-friendly website full of educational, CDC-vetted resources. Major brands and media companies such as Apple, Amazon, Bank of America, Facebook, Google and YouTube, NBCUniversal, ViacomCBS and many others are leveraging their resources, top-tier talent and reach to ensure the campaign connects to consumers.
In addition, the Ad Council and COVID Collaborative are spearheading a grassroots outreach plan in collaboration with faith leaders, business, community-based organizations (such as UnidosUS, NAACP and the Black Coalition Against COVID-19) and influencers, including local doctors, nurses and pharmacists to ensure the campaign messages are reaching their intended audiences in culturally relevant and resonant ways.
The theme is consistent with research done by Edelman DxI for the World Economic Forum, which aims to enlist the global corporate community behind a push for vaccination. Key findings of that research are that vaccine trust is more localized than ever. What motivates one group to get vaccinated won’t work for another. Specifically, vaccine acceptors need messaging that emphasizes personal agency in vaccine adoption; autonomy in decision-making is paramount so that businesses mandating vaccines are completely counter-indicated. Among vaccine resistors, there is deep emotion, pain and anger around the theoretical potential for auto-immune diseases and infertility (concerns that are not borne out by the extensive clinical research), with fear of the vaccine weighing heavier than fear of the virus itself; speaking directly to that fear with facts just deepens the concern while an emotional and visceral messaging approach will drive behavior change.
This underscores the need for a truly tailored approach, like what the Ad Council and COVID Collaborative are planning, to improve public confidence in Covid-19 vaccines. “It’s Up To You” launches today and is one of the most critical messages of our time.
This is a game we must win.
Richard Edelman is CEO.