Call to dial up fear in COVID-19 ad campaign

Call to dial up fear in COVID-19 ad campaign


On a state government basis, from April 1, 2020 to June 1, 2021, the NSW government has spent the most on COVID-19 messaging across the digital environment, splashing $4.73 million, according to Pathmatics estimates.

Queensland was next, spending an estimated $3.48 million, while Victoria has spent only an estimated $918,000 on online communications despite its long-period of lockdown last year. South Australia is estimated to have invested $704,000, the ACT $210,000 and Tasmania $53,000. Western Australia has dripped $1700 into online advertising, while the Northern Territory is estimated to have spent nothing.

Pathmatics figures are estimates based on data collected via a panel of people who sign up to use an app to detect the ads they see in digital environments. Pathmatics estimates ad spend by applying a cost per mille (CPM – the cost an advertiser pays for 1000 views of an ad) obtained from Facebook’s public filings or other public information.

The estimated spending on pandemic-related advertising comes as ad experts urge the government to invest more in campaigns in an effort to boost vaccination figures.

The man credited with creating Australia’s most powerful public health campaign – the 1987 Grim Reaper HIV and AIDS ad, has backed calls to dial up the fear factor to overcome COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, arguing the rise of the delta strain is the perfect opportunity to change the script from a marketing perspective.

“The problem is that there’s a large portion of Australians that do not think catching COVID-19 is likely, number one. Secondly, there’s been not enough said about this: there’s a lot of Australians that think even if I catch it, it’s going to be OK,” Siimon Reynolds said.

“When you combine the fact that people don’t think they’re going to catch it and even if they catch it, they don’t think it’s that bad, then it’s no wonder that the research says at least 30 per cent of Australians don’t even want to have the vaccine. So that’s a lot to change.”

Mr Reynolds said current public attitudes towards the coronavirus can draw similarities around viewpoints towards HIV and AIDS in the late 1980s.

“When AIDS first hit the shores of Australia, everybody believed that if you weren’t homosexual or you weren’t an IV [intravenous] drug user, your chances of getting AIDS were very minimal. The problem also was they didn’t know anybody who had AIDS,” he said.

“In today’s COVID world, many people think in a similar way, they think that because they’re not older, or they view themselves as having a strong immune system, a lot of people think they’re unlikely to catch COVID.”

He said with many Australians not knowing someone who has been sick with the virus, the idea of catching it themselves “looks too distant” and unlikely to occur.

“In some respects, from a marketing communication point of view, the rise of the delta strain offers a tremendous opportunity to change the script and say, now, this new strain is coming through, you must act,” Mr Reynolds said.

“It gives a reason to believe, a reason to change a prior point of view. A good marketer could design advertising to make people genuinely fearful of where this delta strain could go, and they should be.”

Mr Reynolds argued changing people’s attitudes towards the COVID-19 vaccine was “never going to get done by platitudes or formal government announcements of people just speaking to camera”.

Instead of just using celebrities cracking jokes who have no experience of COVID whatsoever, you could use celebrities who have been devastated by COVID such as P!nk.

Siimon Reynolds, the man credited with creating the powerful Grim Reaper ad

“The dutiful Australians who are doing what they are told, don’t need any advertising, and that is the only type of people that the current government ads are talking to. But there’s no point in talking to them because regardless of whether any advertising happens, they’re going to do what they’re told.” He said marketing needed to be directed to the 30 per cent of Australians hesitant to get the jab.

“That’s been the fundamental problem. The government has not analysed who is likely to be an issue here and instead, it’s done blanket, basic, general announcement marketing, as if the whole of Australia thinks alike,” Mr Reynolds said.

A new vaccine campaign is in the works from Sydney-based ad agency BMF, which was awarded a $1.8 million contract by the government to develop advertising targeting under-40s.

It is understood the new campaign will take a light-hearted approach, including celebrities, jokes, and songs in an effort to connect with the public.

“Humour is a terrible, terrible mistake. All it does is reinforces this is not a big issue, we’ll be fine. When has anyone successfully changed someone’s opinion of a medical issue using humour? I know of no such examples anywhere in the world,” Mr Reynolds said.

He does believe a celebrity approach could work, but it must tap into the fear angle as well.

“Instead of just using celebrities cracking jokes who have no experience of COVID whatsoever, you could use celebrities who have been devastated by COVID,” he said.

Mr Reynolds suggested using singer P!nk, who has been open with her COVID-19 experience, which she thought she might not survive, updating her will while she was sick.

“She had an absolutely nightmarish experience with COVID,” Mr Reynolds said.

“Get someone like that on TV to tell people how bad this could be if they don’t act. A lot of Australians would take action.”


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