Empathy as Remedy: Vaccine Marketing in the COVID Era

How do you convince an undecided adult to take the vaccine? By understanding their concerns—and showing them why it's the best and safest choice.

Vaccines | Source: Daniel Schludi, https://unsplash.com/photos/mAGZNECMcUg
Source: Daniel Schludi, https://unsplash.com/photos/mAGZNECMcUg

Should I get vaccinated? Have you been vaccinated? Which one did you get—Pfizer, Moderna, or J&J? A recent NPR/Marist poll found that 5% of Americans were undecided about whether they would get the coronavirus vaccine, while one in four said they would refuse the shot if offered. Uncertainty about the vaccine stems from safety concerns about its newness and expedited approval to marketnot to mention inconsistencies in public-health messaging over the past 18 months. 

The question is: how can public health experts, politicians, and pharmaceutical companies overcome barriers to vaccine acceptance by empathizing with a large majority of the population? 

The power of any successful marketing strategy lies in understanding your audience and assuaging their concernseven more so when it comes to health. Learn how vaccine marketing is reaching audiences with transparent, empathetic messaging to build trust around the vaccine’s safety and quite literally move the needle. 

Vaccines | Source: Daniel Schludi, https://unsplash.com/photos/mAGZNECMcUg
Source: Daniel Schludi, https://unsplash.com/photos/mAGZNECMcUg

“As the vaccine becomes more available, you may have questions. Search ‘covid vaccine’ to get the facts.”

A recent ad campaign for Google brilliantly acknowledges how many questions we had at the beginning of the pandemic, with an up-close shot of phrases like “social distancing,” “quarantine,” and “virtual happy hour” filling the Google search bar. These phrases, now commonplace, were once new and unfamiliar concepts. 

The music slowly changes from a soft, somber melody to an upbeat, hopeful one. The words “virtual” and “online” are increasingly omitted from calendar events as in-person interaction is possible again. Weddings, sports events, and family reunions are back onwith the tagline, “Get back to what you love.” The final shot features the search bar again, with a simple, four-word inquiry: “Covid vaccine near me.” 

Google achieves a powerful, two-fold message in this video: we understand you have questions, and we’re here to answer them so you can get back to what matters most. This messaging encourages audiences to find an available vaccine site only after their questions have been answered. Instead of calling people out for their uncertainty, this video empathizes with its viewer and encourages finding honest, factual answers after months of confusion. 

Learn why the best return on your marketing dollar comes from copywriting.

“At a time when things are most uncertain, we turn to the most certain thing there is: science.” 

Creating an effective, life-saving vaccine in under a year is an incredible featone that has drawn widespread skepticism and uncertainty about the vaccine’s safety. Yet, data shows that all three available vaccines in the U.S. are above 90% effective. 

Public health messaging, however, has been preoccupied with hysteria about new variants, misinformation and debates about the efficacy of certain brands, as well as warnings for the vaccinated population to not go back to life as normal. This chaotic combination has spurred confusion, leading many to feel like getting vaccinated won’t make a difference at all. 

For pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer-BioNTech, the challenge was to remind people of how powerful and trustworthy science isduring the height of an administration when science was repeatedly questioned. In the company’s first-ever brand campaign, the language is simple and confident, comparing science’s resilient, inquisitive nature to that of a competitor: “Because when [science] is faced with a new opponent, it doesn’t back down. It revs up, asking questions until it finds what it’s looking for.” 

The message is straightforward: science has carried us through crises before and it will again. “Because when science wins, we all win,” reminds audiences that this effort isn’t about one person or many peopleit’s about all of us. In short, this ad successfully inspires collective empathy and shared responsibility to one anotherinspiring action along the way. 

MarketSmiths Case Study

An organization that helps childbearing women across the United States, Choices in Childhood has a crucial job—not least given the woeful mother and infant health outcomes. But without a website to match, it was struggling to connect with its audience. But after approaching MarketSmiths, we crafted 20 pages of copy to match their mission, every word both accessible and inspiring. Once we were done, we’d helped Choices in Childbirth banish stigma around alternative birthing, and boosted their standing among women and other NGOs alike.

> Read the full case study here

“The COVID-19 vaccines are here. We’ll see you soon.”

A recent ad by the COVID-19 Vaccine Education Initiative, with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), appeals to our collective nostalgia for a time before the pandemic. 

As Willie Nelson gently sings “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places,” athletes hold hands on the field, sign baseballs for adoring fans, and score game-winning goals in stadiums filled with spectators. Scenes of hugs, high-fives, and filled seats remind audiences of the community they have missedall centered around distinctly American symbols of camaraderie and sport. 

The only thing standing in the way of getting back in the game and reuniting with your community? Getting the vaccine. This simple messaging understands what an American audience yearns for, while reminding us that the solution begins with us. 

Looking ahead to the future of vaccines

Though no one can foresee the next global pandemic, a lesson from this one endures: empathy has never been more important. For marketers everywhere, in healthcare and beyond, your audience needs to feel understood and respected, especially in a time of uncertainty. The remedy for vaccine hesitancy begins with a large dose of thoughtful vaccine marketing—and specialists are already uniquely positioned to provide this. 

Looking for your next dose of world-class copy? MarketSmiths has the perfect treatment in store. 

Olivia Watson

Olivia Watson

Affectionately nicknamed Lib by her friends and family, Olivia has always found a home in books and the places that safe keep them. You can often find Olivia browsing the fiction aisle at the nearest library, a cup of tea in hand. Her passion for language brought her to the Canary Islands last year, where she taught creative writing to elementary students.

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