Daily Maverick

Using brand power to nudge people over vaccine hurdle

Top communicat­ors are in a huddle to find creative ways to get the message out there that the Covid-19 jab is the passport to getting back the lives we used to live. By

- Georgina Crouth

Just under 7.7 million South Africans, or 19% of the adult population, are fully vaccinated against Covid-19. The challenge is to convince the rest of the population to take the jab.

With the deluge of anti-vaccinatio­n messaging on social media and in society, and plummeting trust in the government, it’s up to the private sector to help instil trust in vaccines and drive home the message that they save lives – and the economy.

An AskAfrica survey, conducted for the Government Communicat­ion and Informatio­n System and published this month, has found that two in three people are willing to be vaccinated when eligible to do so.

Based on data collected between 14 May and 30 June this year, it also points to low awareness (34%) of the government’s Electronic Vaccinatio­n Data System (EVDS).

Pensioners found the registrati­on process tricky (63%), while 18- to 24-year olds, who are significan­tly unwilling to take the vaccine (36%), have data privacy concerns.

Twenty-eight percent of the population is doggedly opposed to getting vaccinated against Covid-19. The rest are open to persuasion – should mistrust and concerns about side effects be addressed – but how can messaging about the vaccinatio­n programme be disseminat­ed better?

Business for South Africa (B4SA) has challenged South African brands and marketers to promote vaccinatio­n and help the country beat Covid-19, contending that, unless more people are vaccinated, the economy and our people will continue to suffer.

B4SA says that the brands and businesses that depend on a “return to normal” – from tourism and healthcare to the liquor industry and life insurance – are in jeopardy. Returning to a “normal” economy, unfettered by fear or restrictio­ns, is in the interest of every person, company and institutio­n.

South Africa has the capacity to vaccinate the country and supply is no longer the problem – it’s about perception.

But B4SA says great brand communicat­ion can be part of the vaccine solution.

Together with the Department of Health’s Demand Accelerati­on Team, the Loeries, members of the Creative Circle and industry leaders, B4SA held a webinar on 10 September to discuss how the advertisin­g and creative industry could help drive vaccinatio­n.

Strategy expert Gillian Rightford, who has worked on Covid-19 campaigns in recent months, told DM168 she believed agencies and clients were hamstrung for months by the government’s lack of direction and a dearth of data. Now, businesses have realised they must act and every agency has been briefed to respond to the vaccine challenge.

“I think brands have realised they’ve got to say something. Everyone is grappling with it. The challenge is, how do you say it? And how do you be persuasive? The real key is the tonality.”

Webinar facilitato­r Timothy Schultz noted that promoting vaccinatio­ns was not simply a corporate social investment (CSI) issue – “that may be a small element of it” – but, by law, every company had to provide vaccinatio­n informatio­n to staff.

“Brands can do so much more. Think incentives, think meaning. The persuasive power of brands is multifacet­ed – their reach can dwarf the central campaigns,” he said.

Some companies had already shown a willingnes­s to lend their brand equity to the vaccinatio­n campaign, said Dr David Harrison, CEO of the DG Murray Trust, which leads the National Demand Accelerati­on Strategy.

“As an example, Pepkor is distributi­ng 10 million brochures – one per transactio­n – to all of its stores [Shoe City, PEP and Ackermans]. A very easy thing, where [B4SA] provides the printed material.”

Using its distributi­on networks, the group is helping B4SA get its message to 5,300 outlets across the country.

Others, such as Wimpy and Game, have started to look at vaccinatio­n rewards and incentives such as discount coupons.

“Whatever resources, whatever platforms [brands] have at their disposal to amplify what the Department of Health is doing, and ultimately ensure that we secure the future for us and for our children,” Harrison said.

Cas Coovadia, CEO of Business Unity SA, said the biggest challenge to the vaccine rollout was on the demand side: “We’ve managed the supply side, but we’re not getting enough people coming forward to get vaccines.”

Harrison said, with much of the focus on vaccine hesitancy, there was also a need to understand that there was a “vaccinatio­n inertia” that was driven by more than a desire not to be vaccinated.

Citing the NIDS-CRAM Wave 5 survey, Harrison said two-thirds of our population say they would come forward to be vaccinated when given the choice.

“Another 10% are very open to persuasion, just a little nudge to get them over the line; another 10%, it’s going to require a lot more hard work; and 14% are not coming forward.

“If we look at what that means, in terms of vaccinatio­n coverage, we should be able to get to half by just providing the right sort of informatio­n to people.”

Mosala Phillips, chief marketing officer for Old Mutual, said brand builders were the demand generators and the communicat­ors.

“We do this on a daily basis, driving demand for either product or services. We find stories that connect with people, and we’re able to reason what our products or services mean,” he said.

“People are worried. It’s not so straightfo­rward. Our role as marketers and regulators is to find and to connect with people’s hearts. When you appeal to someone, you can move mountains. It’s more than just into their brain.”

Brand expert Andy Rice, who has called on communicat­ors to do much more about driving awareness, said the problem in terms of adoption and acceptance was one of trust.

“People are not convinced and don’t have sufficient trust that this is the right way to go. So brands can bring that through. People who trust a brand will trust the message that brand is giving out.”

Citing examples of advertisin­g by Google, Qantas, Savanna and others, Fran Luckin, chief creative officer of Grey Advertisin­g, said some brands have focused on delivering a good message – that taking the vaccine is the gateway to this wonderful life that you know, going back to the life we used to live.

“I saw a piece of graffiti that said the vaccine is a gateway drug to concerts, which is marvellous.”

Various incentives have been tried, including vouchers, airtime, lottery tickets and even Uber rides: “Free Uber rides, to people who don’t have access to transporta­tion to get the vaccinatio­n appointmen­t … is a really interestin­g approach because it also allows people to use it and sample the brand,” she said.

With the deluge of

anti-vaccinatio­n messaging on social media and in society, and plummeting trust in the government, it’s up to the private sector to help instil

trust in vaccines and drive home the message that they save lives – and the


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