How brands in Australia are driving vaccination awareness

Brands such as Bunnings and Woolworths are encouraging consumers to get immunised—a role that has historically been solely reserved for the government.

Bunnings has offered up its parking spaces and facilities as vaccination hubs (Shutterstock)
Bunnings has offered up its parking spaces and facilities as vaccination hubs (Shutterstock)

To date, Australia’s vaccination rate has been significantly lower than many other developed countries in the West, partly due to public hesitancy around AstraZeneca, the main component of its vaccination programme. After the government raised the recommended age to 60 for AstraZeneca, many below that age were understandably fearful of opting for AstraZeneca and decided to await fresh Pfizer doses. And a ‘battle of the brands’ ensued.

On top of that, Australia’s low Covid rates also meant that the threat of the virus wasn’t high enough for many to warrant getting a vaccine, according to Emma David, head of health at WE Communications Australia. The Delta outbreak, however, could be shifting mindsets.

“Until recently, many haven’t been in the position to get access to the vaccine. Public scepticism has been high, as messages from the government around the vaccine rollout have continued to change,” said David.

“Australia’s state-based structure has meant that state-level political leaders share differing opinions that do not always align with the federal government or medical community. Australia has lacked a single scientific voice to instil confidence and build trust in the public, which has resulted in mass complacency, confusion and ultimately vaccine hesitancy.” 

In the battle to get more folks in Australia vaccinated, brands have begun to wade into the discussion. For instance, Tinder in Australia launched a vaccine advocacy initiative targeting Gen Z users to display stickers and express their vaccination status and sentiment on their profiles (see image below).

These virtual stickers include labels such as ‘Vaccinated’, ‘Vaxing Soon’, ‘Immunity Together’, and ‘Vaccines Save Lives’. The in-app centre will also link to Australia’s official health site so that members can access government-approved vaccine information and book an appointment at their nearest vaccination site.

Papri Dev, senior director, APAC Communications at Tinder, said that the brand wanted to encourage members to be better-equipped to find their way back into in-real-life dating when it becomes a possibility. On Tinder, vaccinations have become a popular talking point and mentions of ‘vaccine’ in member bios in Australia increased by 220 percent comparing July 2021 to January 2021, and 30 per cent between July 2021 and June 2021.

"Our intent is to make dating safer everywhere and for everyone and Tinder vaccine stickers will make it both easy and fun to share your vaxxing vibe, and start something epic," said Dev.

WE’s David said that there’s been an increase of brands in Australia driving vaccination awareness over the past few months, especially following the Delta outbreak and increased access to Covid vaccines. For instance, hardware chain Bunnings and office supply chain Officeworks have offered to host vaccine hubs

In fact, some of the biggest brands in Australia—including Bunnings, Coles, Woolworths, and Wesfarmers—met with the government last month to discuss speeding up vaccination programmes in the country. Some issues that were discussed in the meeting include “transport, premises, immunity engagement, as well as communication”. Incentivising consumers for being vaccinated—such as giving out loyalty points—was also discussed as an option.  

“These brands have had to navigate messaging around the Covid vaccine carefully, as Australia’s phased rollout targeting older and vulnerable Australians initially and then cascading down has meant that not everyone is eligible for vaccination at the same time,” said David. 

“Brands are adopting the line 'get vaccinated if you can' to ensure they are not isolating groups of their customers who are still waiting for a vaccine. This approach may have resulted from learnings taken from the recent federal government campaign that received backlash after releasing an ad showing a young person struggling to breathe on a ventilator, despite her age group being ineligible for the Covid vaccine at that stage of the rollout.”

In addition, David said the media has also been involved in the push for vaccination awareness, with Channel 9 releasing a celebrity-clad campaign encouraging people to get vaccinated. The ad, however, was criticised for its lack of diversity.

The shifting role of brands

Historically in Australia, there has been an expectation that the government should drive vaccination awareness but David said it’s been interesting to observe this shift of expectations as businesses and individuals are very much involved in proactively communicating about the issue. 

However, David said that brands need to consider two key factors before releasing a vaccine campaign: accuracy and authenticity.

To be accurate, brands must ensure that their messaging does not perpetuate confusion and misinformation, especially as the situation evolves and more data becomes available. A question brand marketers can ask is: Are there checks and balances in place to ensure what is communicated internally and externally is correct?

In addition, brands in Australia have been cautious and want to avoid being perceived as ‘a brand simply jumping on the vaccination awareness bandwagon’.

“Those who have pushed out vaccination awareness campaigns have done so because it directly aligns with their product or service. Another way brands have authentically communicated vaccination awareness messages has been through their executive leadership and employees,” said David. “Social channels such as LinkedIn and Instagram have been awash with individuals sharing their vaccination experiences. This has been an effective way for brands to share their support for vaccination without opening themselves up to criticism.”

Overall, David advices that there shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach for brands given the vast spectrum of knowledge and opinion around vaccinations, an issue that is already divided in accordance with moving factors such as location, age, circumstance and perceived threat of the virus. 

“Communications strategy and creative should carefully consider this and address barriers unique to specific audiences. Personally, I have responded well to factually-driven, reassuring content and what I call the ‘FOMO’ approach, where messaging focuses on what is possible when we reach our vaccination goals rather than scaremongering, fearful content,” said David.

She quoted a campaign from The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, who “did this perfectly” in their recent campaign (see video below), approaching serious messaging in a unique, creative and positive way. 

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