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COVID’s Curtain Call: Vaccination and how NOT to drive action with your content

Updated: Jul 19, 2021

As we navigate the second year with COVID-19 in our lives, communication from the government and businesses relating to restrictions, symptoms, and vaccination feels like second nature.

While this piece of content uses examples about vaccination, it has not been written to persuade you in any way. This piece of content is about precisely that: content, and how content can be used as a powerful promotor or detractor of any cause.

Recently, we’ve seen two pieces of content aimed at promoting vaccinations for COVID-19; one created by the Australian Federal Government and the other by Victoria’s Arts Community.

Here's the first one:

The Australian Federal Government has created a piece of content designed to evoke fear. It’s psychology and marketing 101 to know that fear works more as a deterrent, rather than a motivator for action. Understanding this is crucial to crafting a marketing message, though it’s clear this campaign misses the mark.

If you want to stop somebody from doing something, then fear will often work. How many health scares and abandoned children have we seen in an attempt to target smokers?

If you want to encourage somebody to do something, selling happiness, hope, and optimism is probably a more effective approach.

Seeing a woman in her 20s laying in a hospital bed, attached to a ventilator and struggling to breathe has a far less likely chance of motivating anyone to take action and get vaccinated.

What this content does is sell fear to a demographic of people who are already struggling with their mental health. Most importantly, beyond its tone-deaf approach, the message is also selling fear to a group of people (20 to 40-year-olds) that don’t even qualify for the Australian Government’s vaccination program.

Since fear is far less likely to drive action, this piece of content undermines its potential as a persuasive message.

Let’s look at the next piece of content.

This video created by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra sells the same outcome as the Australian Federal Government. What’s the difference? Hope and light.

This campaign shares a message of hope to a community of people whose work has been decimated over the past 18 months. “When you can, get vaccinated, so we can all get back to doing what we love.”

It begins by acknowledging the hardship we’ve experienced over the past 12 months, and how we can – together as an ‘ensemble’ – do our part to bring back hope. By highlighting that not everyone can be vaccinated, this campaign appeals to our sense of sympathy and prompts us to think about the role we play in protecting one another and our community.

No matter your age, this message speaks to you.

MSO casts the viewer as the leading role by referring to their vaccination as the performance of a lifetime. The video builds to its emotive end: “Thank you, Victoria, from the bottom of our hearts. We can’t wait to give you a standing ovation.” A final reminder of the responsibility the viewer carries to give COVID its final curtain call.

This piece of content drives action because it’s infused with imagery and ideas of what the viewer’s reality could look like if they took action. Rather than presenting us with the gloomy and confronting scene of a young woman struggling to breathe, this ad paints a picture of hope to show us that beyond the pain and suffering, a brighter world is in sight.

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