Lacking motivation, punch: Industry responds to the last Covid-19 campaign

Marketing academics and industry strategists and creatives share their concerns and lessons from the 'Arm yourself' advertising campaign

It might be a catchy line, but the Federal Government’s latest Covid-19 vaccination advertising line campaign, ‘Arm yourself’, lacks punch and the right mechanisms to motivate Australians to change behaviour and get the jab.

That was the resounding view from a host of marketing and media industry’s academics, creatives and strategists speaking to CMO this week about the fresh advertising campaign and whether it can get Australia’s vaccination rates up.

While believing the campaign had some merit, Monash University senior lecturer in the Department of Marketing, Davide Orazi, said ‘Arm yourself’ lacked the punch he expected after 18 months of living with the Covid-19 virus.

“It avoids the unnecessary use of fear appeals, it is very inclusive, and calls to action to protect not just yourself but your community, workmates and family,” Orazi said. “I can imagine a military leader in a boardroom imperiously telling a team of copy editors that the Nation needs to arm themselves and that should be the tagline. I like the military: They are very efficient with logistics, but less famous for being good communicators.

“Back at the office, a team of poor souls - I mean, creative directors - has to force fit the slogan, ‘Arm Yourself’, to a creative that makes sense. The concept of insight, and a moment of revelation when you discover the hidden, resonating meaning of an ad, is key in advertising. Yet not much hides or resonates in this ad.”  

Credit: Australian Government


Bastion Brands chief executive and founder, Simon Davies, applauded the wordplay of ‘Arm yourself’ but questioned the execution.

“The message is clear in terms of what the Government wants people to do, it just misses the mark on compelling us to get the jab,” he said. “I don't feel compelled to take action and I can’t see it having a massive impact on driving behaviour changes amongst the community.

“There's no personality or emotive human story and because they don't actually show people’s faces. There’s nothing for people to grasp onto and relate to. It's timely because we need to push people to get the vaccine. But the execution is just not very strong.” 

It was a similar story for University of Sydney Business School associate professor in marketing, Tom van Laer, who expressed concerned the advertising campaign will do little to shift behaviour.

“It misses the secret - and essential – ingredient: Motivation. On a scale of one to 10, the campaign would probably score a five,” he said. “Research tells us metaphors like #ArmYourself do increase trust in available vaccines, but they fail on that crucial second ingredient of motivation.”

Wunderman Thompson chief strategy officer, Angela Morris, was less severe, noting there’s no getting away from the fact behaviour change is a difficult task.

“People are complex, behaviours are driven by largely subconscious biases and often firmly entrenched. As a result, successful behaviour change campaigns are those that truly understand the barriers to change and are carefully designed to diffuse and overcome them,” she commented.  

“Looking at the ‘Arm Yourself’ campaign, it uses a number of techniques to this end. Firstly, the idea repositions vaccinations as ‘protection’, countering the prevailing concern that they are a potential ‘risk’. Secondly, the hospital execution reframes perception of risk, by highlighting the covid risk we should really worry about – that is, the risk of acute respiratory issues.

“Lastly, the bulk of the campaign seeks to leverage social norming, by suggesting visually, through the montage of members of society who are vaccinated, thus ‘armed/protected’, that vaccination is something ‘everyone is doing’. All of which are potentially valid strategies, depending on the barriers that have been identified.”

Morris was somewhat surprised by the outraged reaction to the ad’s call to action. She saw it as a reminder of the importance of the CTA message matching the current contextual reality and experience that follows.

“The well-publicised shortage of vaccines, limits on who can access them and the difficulty of getting an appointment are all, however, in direct contradiction to the CTA asking for people to book,” she said.  

“Driving motivation is critical but making sure the other behaviour change levers – capability and opportunity – are fit for purpose can be overlooked or undersized. With mass behaviour change campaigns, getting the CTA platform and subsequent behaviour change journey ready for the volume of response has to be complete before the campaign goes live.

“I would hope there is work going on in the background on experience management upgrades – like appointment wait lists, options to select multiple vaccination sites and opt in for push messaging when a vaccination appointment is available.

“These would all help salve that initial ‘don’t ask me if I can’t get it’ outrage. And more importantly, will help complete that behaviour change journey for those who now want the vaccination.”  

The fear factor

Views were even more mixed on the element and impact of fear in the graphic ad launched as part of the new Covid ad campaign in Sydney. This shows a young woman in a hospital bed gasping for air. Van Laer believed the creative will likely only cause defensiveness and denial unless the line ‘Book your vaccination’ is cut.

“The fact of the matter is these sorts of fear-based campaigns only work when the fear depicted is moderate; an action is recommended that clearly stops the threat; and people are convinced they can take that action accordingly,” he said. “Since the third ingredient is missing for under 40-year-olds, they are likely to fall into a circle of denial that COVID-19 could even affect them.”

Add in the confusing mixed messages from some authorities around use of the AstraZeneca jab for under 60s, and the calls to action should be targeted at appropriate age groups as per the rollout plan, van Laer said.

Morris said fear as a technique has become less popular over time in behaviour change campaigns.

“The aim here is clearly to change public perception of Covid risk – a key precursor to action. Whether fear will work in this case or not depends on an important nuance in driving risk perception, and that’s personal relevance,” she continued. “It’s all too common for people to understand a risk exists, but still self-exclude because they don’t feel personally at risk. In Australia, that has been the dominant situation throughout Covid.

“Rather than solely highlighting the severity of risk, the key is to communicate susceptibility to risk. Prompting the audience to feel a sense of personal vulnerability to risk is vital to drive the all-important self-reflection and that, in turn, prompts consideration of action.”

Tailored appeal

Theright.fit founder, Taryn Williams, is another industry commentator who questioned the lack of relevance to specific demographics.

"The ‘Arm yourself’ campaign did not utilise high-profile people, the campaign did not feel like it spoke to any particular demographic. I am intrigued as to why there aren’t any key opinion leaders in the ad – medical experts, epidemiologists,” she said.

“Internationally, we’ve seen fantastic, engaging campaigns like the UK ad featuring very high-profile celebrities giving an aspirational lens to getting vaccinated. It would have been great to see that adopted here when I am sure there are many top celebrities who would be happy to get behind this. The ‘arms’ in the new campaign could have been replaced with ‘leading Australians from a huge range of walks of life’.

“More targeted campaigns that really speak to a specific community I think are incredibly important."

Integrated campaigning

Then there’s campaign delivery. Davies stressed the importance of an integrated effort across multiple channels with high reach and frequency.

“While it is good to see the ad will be aired across TV, radio, print, billboards, and social media, I do hope there will be a large enough budget to see it through,” he said.

Orazi pointed to the ability to engage in personalised advertising on social media.

“We have almost 40 per cent of Australians born from foreign parents that would likely be more persuaded by a campaign that promises an ease of border restriction and the opportunity to return visiting loved ones, and yet no sign of campaigns that leverage these highly-emotional narratives,” he said.

The dialogue around the Federal Government’s ad campaign also shows how important it is for analyse results and commentary to ensure communications continue to improve and gain effectiveness, VMLY&R chief executive officer A/NZ, Thomas Tearle.

“It’s vital time is invested in learning from the results that the campaign achieves in terms of both pure vaccination numbers and the increased percentage of people who now intend to get vaccinated as a result of seeing the ads,” he said.   

“How do attitudes to the campaign vary across demographics? What do they actually need to see from the creative? And importantly, what is the messaging that will actually motivate the country to get vaccinated? Is it carrot or stick here, or both for that matter?” 

In addition, Tearle pointed to census data illustrating how different cultural groups tend to differ in terms of household size and languages spoken at home.

“Really understanding that and designing comms for it, rather than being seen to ‘castigate’ certain communities with high police presence and extra rules, would deliver for cultural health as well as public health,” he said.

“By acknowledging the feedback and data, answering the hard questions and studying the risks that may come from the next communications approach, the Government can ensure they negate the swirl of negativity we have seen this week. Instead, they can then create a profoundly impactful campaign that actually triggers the much-needed behavioural response to get vaccinated across demographics.”

Don’t miss out on the wealth of insight and content provided by CMO A/NZ and sign up to our weekly CMO Digest newsletters and information services here. 

You can also follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page

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