Key points:

  • One pandemic. One global challenge. Multiple vaccination advertising approaches from country to country.
  • Efficacy of Vaccination ad campaigns questionable, but if they reduce complacency, they’re doing the job, according to Behavioural Economist Bob Slomin

Global Vax ads. Our pick.

It’s an understatement to say that it’s been a challenging time for brands across the world. Reactions and strategies to deal with the economic uncertainties brought about by the pandemic have varied across countries, across industries. There has been no playbook. No right or wrong. Companies have done what they can to work their way through this.

With the emergence of vaccines to combat COVID has emerged a similarly challenging task for global Health authorities to develop communication programs to get people vaccinated as fast as possible. It’s a different branding challenge of its own kind.

Once again, there has been no playbook –  which accounts for the wildly varied approaches to the comms strategies taken by different countries. Humour, celebrity endorsements, fear, emotional heartstrings, ex-presidents –  it’s all been tried.

Here’s our pick of 5 from around the world that demonstrate the spectrum.

1. New Zealand does it for each other.

The Kiwi Vax campaign is typical of the laconic humor that so perfectly defines the New Zealand spirit. The 60 second ad is packed with classic lines and visual cues that put things like gumboots and hakas front and center.

 With their unique take on the world, we see Kiwis take aim at COVID for “trying to be friends with 2021” and then following up with “Guess what, we’ve got plans too.”

“This is our metaphorical door to freedom” says a health worker entering a vaccination clinic. Cut to a barber shop where we see a guy being cheered when he says “I’m going home to see my mum.” And cue resilient New Zealanders thumbing their noses at the virus by planning weddings and heading to concerts as they cheekily say ‘Ka Kite’ to COVID (that’s ‘See you’ in Maori).

 The ad’s a completely different take on the importance of getting vaccinated and being free. It’s done the job, won lots of fans internationally and is almost more of a celebration than a fear campaign.

2. Speaking of fear campaigns – USA.

Vaccination rates peaked in the US early April — with more than 3 million COVID-19 shots per day — but vax rates have declined dramatically since. It’s a worrying sign for the Biden government. So to turn the tide, the fear factor has been ramped up with a series of ads featuring unvaccinated Covid-19 survivors and an intensive care unit nurse speaking candidly about the toll the virus has taken.

This is a significant switch from earlier campaigns which were filled with positive messages to convince hesitant Americans to roll up their sleeves. Public opinion experts have got behind the new approach suggesting that it has more cut through than the saccharine offerings earlier in the year. Maybe they need some gumboots in their ads to get better results.

3. Singapore heads to the Disco.

Meanwhile, back across the pacific to steamy Singapore, disco is the theme that’s driving the local vaccination campaign. Could it be any different to the US approach? The catchy, bizarre pop vid featuring local comedian Gurmit Singh as his popular alter ego – eccentric contractor Phua Chu Kang appeals to the public against complacency. “Low cases isn’t no cases” he sings to the catchy disco beat.

Cringeworthy. Loveable. Effective. There is a suggestion that the Singaporean government is threatening to continue to play it until everyone is vaccinated.

4. UK goes for star power.

Is it any wonder that a nation with such a dry sense of humor and celebrities on almost every street corner turned to the big names to get the jab story straight? Earlier this year, England’s beloved National Health service wheeled in the likes of Elton John, Michael Caine, David Walliams, Liz Hurley and Lenny Henry in a memorable campaign that for once, uses star talent with panache. The classy concept involves faux auditions featuring the stars, with delightful humor that makes them a joy to watch.


5. France seals it with a kiss.

The nation of love has played to their strong suit developing a romantically suggestive vaccination campaign, highlighting the ‘desirable’ effects of being jabbed.

The campaign focuses on the notion of vaccination being a powerful boost for people’s social lives and weighs in heavily on classic French stereotypes – a couple kissing in the back of a car, a bunch of young fabulous people at a concert, and a cool couple in a tender embrace on a train platform.

The series of urban billboards sprung up around bars, restaurants and gyms to capitalize on locations where people meet. Philippe de Mester, France’s Director of Health explained why they went in a different direction ‘we realized that the rather traditional approach, which is sometimes a bit guilt inducing, has little impact.’ Maybe they need to have a word to their US counterparts.

Special mention: A local US campaign founded in reverse psychology

At first glance, this campaign looks like it was made by anti-vaxxers, but the cute reverse message featuring Wilmore Funeral Home blew up on social media.

It was an instant hit on Twitter with plenty of shares of the image seen driving around a football stadium in North Carolina “That is awesome! The funeral home wants your business, so don’t get vaccinated. Love it,” was typical of the response.

Ultimately, this one fooled everyone. There is no such business – do a quick Google search on Wilmore Funeral Home and you arrive at a black page with a sobering message: “Get vaccinated now. If not, see you soon.” The ad was conceived by ad agency Boone Oakley for their client StarMed Healthcare. Ten points for lateral thinking.

With such starkly different advertising strategies out there, the question is, do any of them work?

Time will tell, of course, but Behavioural Economist Bob Slomin argues that any ad campaign can help to shake out complacency. If they get traction on social media and cut through with humor or left field disco pieces to influence just one person to get vaccinated, then they may just have saved a life. And isn’t that worth it?