December 9, 2020

2021 to Mark Our ‘Moonshot’ Against COVID-19

By Jay Bemis | Advertising Systems Inc.
Arguably the most important marketing campaign of 2021 is unfolding just as the new year arrives: Convincing Americans and the rest of the world that they should get immunized as soon as possible against COVID-19, now that a vaccine is being distributed in Great Britain and as early as next week to this country.

At the center of the public marketing effort will be The Ad Council, whose previous experience includes such public relations campaigns as Smokey the Bear’s “only you can prevent forest fires” and “friends don’t let friends drive drunk.”

It also was The Ad Council that convinced Elvis Presley in 1956 to roll up a sleeve and get publicly inoculated against polio — perhaps the Council’s most iconic campaign in its long history. Millions of people would decide to follow the swooner’s lead, and the world would eventually wipe out that deadly virus.

The Ad Council announced in late November that it will launch “one of the largest public education campaigns in history” with a $50-million effort to encourage Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The campaign will be in partnership with the COVID Collaborative, a group of leading experts in health, education and the economy.

“Widespread adoption of the COVID-19 vaccine is our generation’s ‘moonshot’ and will represent one of the largest public health interventions in our nation’s history,” Ad Council President and CEO Lisa Sherman said in announcing the campaign.

Hesitancy is a chief concern of public health officials as the COVID-19 vaccine is administered to the citizens of Great Britain and the United States.

The Pew Research Center reported late last week that overall, 60% of Americans say they would “definitely” or “probably” get a vaccine, which was up from 51% in a similar poll in September. Among ages 65 and older, three-quarters say they would “definitely” or “probably” get vaccinated — compared to 55% of those under age 30.

Another study just released by the COVID Collaborative, the NAACP and UnidosUS, meanwhile, found that 15% of Black Americans and 34% of Latinx Americans trust that the vaccine will be safe. Among those groups, more than 75% said confidence in the vaccine’s safety will be important in deciding whether to be vaccinated.

“The national education campaign will be a critical step in providing Black communities with the information they need to rebuild trust and get vaccinated,” Derrick Johnson, CEO of the NAACP, said.

While awaiting a vaccine, The Ad Council already has launched a “Mask Up America” part of promotion.

Now that Americans may be receiving the vaccine as early as next week, the key stretch of the drive awaits a catchphrase and specifics, though one might bet that it will include social-media influencers from the worlds of entertainment, sports and music.

Expect to hear from many such influencers as 2021 unfolds. The Ad Council has confirmed that the drive will unite “trusted messengers and influential voices and tailoring communications to reach diverse audiences.”

Former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama already have indicated they are willing to get inoculated against the coronavirus, perhaps publicly on TV, to become part of the campaign. 

As 2021 arrives, will we see a Miley Cyrus, a Patrick Mahomes, a Selena Gomez and many other younger social-media influencers — along with the rest of the world — start to follow?

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