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Few campaigns have generated as much buzz and conjecture as Australia’s latest COVID vaccination campaign, with anyone and everyone chipping in with their opinion over the last few days. Politicians, agency figureheads, academics, Kochie from Sunrise, right through to the BBC – you name it and they’ve chucked in their 2 cents.
But, given the pandemic’s impacts are continuing to be felt by all Australians (none more so than Sydney-siders at present), this is hardly surprising. More broadly, the federal government has been widely panned for its “botched” roll-out of the vaccine so far, while both mainstream- and social- media have played a big part in “fanning the flames” – exacerbating tensions already felt by those concerned about the vaccine’s side effects. This has all served to raise the stakes for the federal government’s vaccine communications.
‘Arm Yourself’ is the latest evolution of the vaccine push, a “call to arms” which attempts to present vaccination as Australia’s only way out of this mess, stirring military connotations as a metaphor for the battle against the virus – and the role each and every Australian plays in helping overcome it.
The style contrasts the more lighthearted approaches which have been widely lauded in New Zealand, France, the UK, and Singapore, while the U.S. has pulled out the big guns by having former presidents front their campaign push. Further complicating Australia’s campaign drive is the unique challenge of creating demand for a ‘product’ that’s in short supply; a rare problem faced by brands choosing broadcast media as their mechanism for communication.
But, putting aside opinions and politics and instead focusing on those who really matter – regular Australians, how did ‘Arm Yourself’ land with them? We put the ad to the test using our three C’s framework:
To work, the first thing all advertising must do is make people sit up and take notice – which is generally achieved by leveraging a unique creative style, telling a story, or featuring an emotional hook. ‘Arm Yourself’ does none of these, with the overwhelming majority recalling little which they enjoyed. Over a quarter perceived the ad to be dull and boring. The absence of human faces to connect with meant the ad failed to elicit a strong emotional response, and – combined with the military connotations and authoritative narration – set an impersonal tone that left many feeling ‘miserable’ and ‘sad’. Humans feel when they see other humans feeling, so it was an odd decision to omit the characters’ faces.
The ad had some success in its clear focus on the vaccine itself – with very few left in any doubt about who/what it was for. Focusing solely on people’s rolled-up sleeves and band aids/plasters provided a clear and obvious link to the vaccine jab. While only few people recognised cues from earlier phases of the campaign – such as the blue screen or vaccination ‘tick’ – the topical nature of COVID made it unlikely to be mistaken for any other health issue.
However, consistencies in campaign style and tone are important because they help magnify the impact of messaging over time. At best, both federal and state vaccine communications have been haphazard – with the previous iteration of the campaign being spearheaded by an authority figure (deputy chief medical officer, Dr Nick Coatsworth). With ‘Arm Yourself’ being an entirely new campaign direction, it therefore wasn’t surprising that perceived fit with expectations was low.
The all-important question is whether the ad more favourably predisposes people toward getting the vaccine itself, and again ‘Arm Yourself’ fell flat – with the majority stating that the ad did little to change their current mindset. Incredibly, for the most pressing issue of our time, less than half of people felt the ad told them anything relevant, while a similarly low proportion felt the source of the messaging was credible. By simply telling people to ‘get it’ without any further information or laddering up a rational or emotional benefit, people were left largely unmoved.
Most concerningly, this exacerbated existing negativity toward the vaccine rollout for many, with just under a quarter of people feeling ‘frustrated’ or ‘anxious’ as a result of watching the ad (which was equal to the number who felt ‘inspired’), with many feeling it reinforced the lack of urgency shown with the vaccine roll-out so far. Only half of people stated the ad made them feel like they ‘could have an impact’ and just one-in-three felt it made them ‘trust the government’s response to COVID-19’.
Public commentary around the newest vaccine communications has largely been well-intended; an acknowledgment that we remain a country in the midst of a health crisis while the rest of the world seems to be moving on, and government communications need to provide people with much-needed clarity and reassurance. Sadly, ‘Arm Yourself’ failed in that regard.
Yes, this is an incredibly serious and sensitive issue, but advertising and communications – whatever the message – still needs to cut-through, generate some intrigue, and engage. Effective advertising has a creative spark, taps into an emotion, humour, personality – something to elevate it from background noise; by playing it safe with its passive tone and generic message of togetherness, ‘Arm Yourself’ did very little to motivate behaviour.
While Australia has fared better than most, the constant threat of COVID outbreaks and lockdowns has been hanging over our heads for 18 months. As such, the public is looking for hope and a vision of life once this is all over, or at the very least clarity on how we get there. By focusing purely on the vaccine roll-out’s process – rather than the vision of that positive future – ‘Arm Yourself’ has missed a trick and instead served to amplify existing negativity and frustrations. As the vaccine roll-out ramps up, the Australian Government would be well-advised to shift the focus to the carrot over the stick – inspiring and building excitement through a more emotional and creative demonstration of how the vaccine will get us back to the Australian way of life we previously knew.