Around the world in COVID-19 campaigns

Around the world in COVID-19 campaigns

The same week Facebook outlined their plans for a global vaccines misinformation campaign I was walking along my London street and something caught my eye. Drawing closer to it I noticed it was none other than a yellow anti-vax poster cable-tied to a lamppost. I ripped it down immediately – health comms public service in action.

Across the road on a large prominent screen, by contrast, is the hard-hitting UK Government campaign “look them in the eyes”. Raw shots of frontline healthcare workers and COVID-19 patients (hooked up to ventilators) stressing the seriousness of the illness and the stress put on NHS staff.

It’s a tonal shift from earlier UK Government public COVID-19 campaigns like the ‘act like you’ve got it’ ads on posters and social media. These are emotional, memorable and clear – unlike the ill-fated ‘stay alert’ slogan which got everyone confused and sharing meerkat memes. They are not designed to persuade the older or clinically vulnerable groups. It’s those who don’t feel at personal risk they hope to persuade by giving personal responsibility.

Successful public health campaigns foster solidarity, a sense of collective effort; emotionally resonate with the target audience and recognise uncertainty where it exists (ie. treat people like adults and they are more likely to trust the message). And most importantly, don’t repeat the myths, just emotionally engage based on facts.

For example, our latest client campaign is designed to boost the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine amongst BAME and younger members of staff on the healthcare frontline. We chose a simple people like me campaign with a slogan and visual, “Be Like…Get Vaccinated” inserting the names and photos of staff members in masks. Videos from relatives expressing their relief and delight at staff being offered the jab have accompanied Q&A materials answering questions they staff have raised and one to build confidence in the vaccine.

But the UK isn’t the only country to have chosen a more stringent tone over the past few months to tackle vaccine hesitancy and lockdown behaviours amongst members of the public.

Countries like Poland, France and the US (whose citizens are least likely to take a COVID-19 vaccine when offered) have been taking their messaging to the masses in a variety of ways.

In September last year, France began airing an ad described by the Minister for Citizenship as a “shock” advertisement. The public health campaign shows people hugging and kissing friends on the cheek before gathering to celebrate an older relative’s birthday. The video then cuts to three weeks later, with the elder relative seriously ill in intensive care. The headline is: “We can all be affected. So, we must protect each other.”

And if you haven’t seen it already, Germany’s widely viewed ‘couch potato’ ad aimed at younger people, is a gem. It depicts an old man talking about the winter of 2020 “when the whole country’s eyes were on us” and his “service” to the nation as a young student then – namely, staying at home and being lazy. It is no coincidence Germany chose to pick up on the global ‘itchy feet’ syndrome. As we know from our own public attitudes polling, travel is the biggest ‘carrot’ incentive amongst the public.

The US is in the first phase of launching a $250m ad campaign, across radio/online video etc. The chief focus of this will be ‘Building Vaccine Confidence’, beginning with the “Tell Me Moreseries of clips and longer public service announcement videos online from health leaders such as Dr Anthony Fauci – which frankly, probably aren’t going to persuade people of any age who are already vaccine hesitant.

Facebook’s pledge to debunk fake vaccine news should be welcomed, albeit it took a long time coming. We must all play our part as global citizens as the world, one conversation, one ripped-down poster at a time. Let’s just make sure we use the facts, because for public health communications to work, people have to believe it first.