Australia’s Vaccine Ads: When Will We Stop Getting In Our Own Way?

Australia’s Vaccine Ads: When Will We Stop Getting In Our Own Way?
B&T Magazine
Edited by B&T Magazine

Kate Smither, aka The Tall Planner, reflects on Australia’s vaccine campaign.

If Australia was brand architecture, it would be a house of brands. A disconnected group where each brand (or in this case) each state does its own thing and sets its own rules. And in a time of global crisis, it becomes really clear that that’s a difficult brand architecture to be.

Somewhere along the way we nationally lost the clarity that we as an industry spend our lives telling brands to have. It’s no big surprise that the Edelman trust barometer tells us that 62 per cent of people don’t believe that we will make it through the current challenges without brands leading the way. 55 per cent think that brands and businesses are acting faster than the government in response to the crisis

There’s a lesson here that we are in danger of missing. The lesson that brands have learnt over the years, the power of standing for one well defined thing.

We tell our clients and partners to be clear, to be simple, to be single-minded. It makes me wonder why our Federal Government, doesn’t think of itself in this way. The constitution and federation have set us up to be a collection of individual states but that doesn’t mean that in times of crisis, our leaders can’t speak with one voice. Act as a well defined brand does. Surely it would alleviate some of the chaos and confusion if there was a clear single standard definition of events, message to the public and call to action.

It might even stop us getting in our own way.

As debate rages around whether the “Arm yourself” ad is useful or whether the NSW scare tactic ad shows someone who couldn’t get vaccinated anyway, it got me thinking that we have lost our understanding of what public messaging really is. And how it can be used.

When considering the role of impactful communications in Australia, the debate seems to oscillate between provoking broad fear with shock tactics and depicting individual action. Which one to highlight and what to focus on, the issue or the result of inaction? There is no one answer.

The current vaccine/Covid 19 ads in Australia are playing this debate out in real time in our advertising landscape.

The “Arm yourself” ad took the individual action approach. But by showing lots of arms with post jab band aids on, it ran the risk of telling people not to bother acting because lots of people had already been vaccinated. I’m not sure reports in the press verify that take out and I know it’s not the case, so, military language aside it’s just a bit confusing.

On the other side of the comms landscape, the woman in the ICU trying to breathe was pure shock tactic. It came out of nowhere. It had no context or conversation to make it relatable. It didn’t break the inertia around messaging and around the disease. By using images people are used to seeing in cancer and anti-smoking advertising, it also gave people an easy out. It gave them the ability to push the message away, keep it at arm’s length and it showed how desensitised we all are to ‘shockvertising’ today.

Writing in The Spectator, Rory Sutherland, the guru of all things behavioural, looks at how the pandemic has shown the power held by the lost art of public information messages. Sutherland makes the point that it is not about creating a “nanny state” but about creating a “helpful state”. Rather than politicising or splitting the issue party by party, state by state as we do, Sutherland, highlights how people are able to be convinced to act in the collective good not just the individual. His article reminds me that at our core, humans aren’t all totally selfish or self-obsessed. We can and will act in the collective good given the right motivation.

That motivation comes from the balance of self-interest and collective good. It’s about having something at stake, creating a sense of urgency and showing the impact individual action can have.

The latest public service message from The Victorian Arts Community gets the closest to being both useful and powerful.

Not because it is scary. Not because it is informative or even hopeful but because it shows there’s something at stake. It shows the impact of individuals’ inaction and it shows the damage to the collective good. Sure, it doesn’t show the whole impact of individual inaction nor does it show the hideous consequences of the pandemic, but it does show something relatable and tangible that people can connect to.

It’s a whole industry asking Australia for help and one thing that Aussies do well is have each other’s back in times of trouble.

Maybe this is the time that Australia’s leadership motivates individual action and tells us why to act. Maybe it is time for public messaging to create a “useful state” as Rory Sutherland calls it. Maybe we get out of our own way by being helpful and showing that there is something at stake. And then again, maybe we should just take a leaf out of Dolly Parton’s book and tell Australia, plain and simple “Don’t be such a chicken squat, go out there and get your shot”.

It could be that simple.

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Kate Smither the tll plnner vaccine ads

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