Fear, comedy or cliché - which vaccine campaign got it right?


A former boss once told me: “Political communication is not communication. It is politics!” The same, it seems, applies to public health communication.


This adage resonates well today. Time is critical in fighting a virus that mutates rapidly, yet campaigns to educate about the benefits of the Covid-19 vaccine cannot completely dispel the conspiracy theories stacked above our democracies.


Communication campaigns across the globe have endorsed very different advice with different ‘freedoms’ for its citizens. Europe is living quite freely as a result; whereas half of Australia is in lockdown again. Here we look at the three very different ways Australia, France and the UK have tackled their vaccination rollout campaign.


Australia: scare me if you can


There is a genuine feeling of anxiety coming from the Government’s “Don’t be complacent” campaign for Greater Sydney. The ad showing a young woman struggling to breathe even creates a sense of fear. Typically, fear campaigns are used when you want people to stop doing something -- stop drinking, stop smoking -- not take action, which in this case is to get vaccinated.


The “Protect yourself / your family / your community” message is less fear mongering, but still unclear in communicating the purpose and the action. Indeed, we see bandages on arms but we do not see anyone getting vaccinated. What is missing is the process, where the audience will take action because they understand what they need to do.


France: so cliché


A recent advert from the Agence Regionale de Santé (a French regional health authority equivalent to Australia’s Ahpra) uses an image of a couple passionately kissing in the back of a car alongside the tagline: “Yes, the vaccine can have desirable effects.” According to the French regional health authority, the campaign aims to send a “very positive message” with photographs evoking “reunion scenes”.


The same “reunion scenes” are also at the heart of this ad campaign, which repeatedly shows people getting vaccinated and visiting public places again such as offices, colleges, theatres and stadiums. In less than 60 seconds the narrative gives people confidence that life will get back to “normal”, boosted by the aptly selected “Freedom” music from Pharell.


The UK: British humour, sarcasm and self-mockery


The UK’s vaccination campaign uses comedy and unlike the Australian and French ads, features big-name celebrities, Elton John and Michael Caine.


Elton John sings his classic "I'm Still Standing" after pretending to receive the vaccine. Michael Caine, 87, tells viewers the vaccine doesn't hurt before adding his trademark phrase, "not many people know that."

Both communicate the right key messages - the importance and safety of the vaccine.

Cultural relevance is clear in each campaign:

  • Australia: “get vaccinated = not to die”: a narrative focused mainly on a small size of the picture

  • France: “getting vaccinated to live again”: a very “cliché” narrative focused on life after the vaccine and its positives

  • UK: “let’s make a joke about getting vaccinated”: a typical British narrative, featuring “glocal” personalities

So, let’s ask the question: do identical ills call for identical remedies? In short, the answer is no. The success of the campaigns will only be determined by the number of people who accept what needs to be done, take action and get vaccinated.


By Natanael Bloch, Thrive Group Account Director (Melbourne)

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