The COVID-19 pandemic has been marked by loss, lockdowns and a conspicuous, almost embarrassing lack of great marketing. In recent days, however, things are changing – some leading marketing companies are stepping up. It is not a minute too soon.
Marketing shapes behavior. By identifying and tapping into needs and wants, marketers try to drive sales and generate profit. If you are launching a new product, the marketing challenge is to build awareness, trial and repeat. If you are managing an established product, the issue is driving growth, encouraging people to consume more or bringing new people to the franchise.
If we have needed one thing during this pandemic, it has been great marketing. Rarely has the need for new behaviors been more urgent. To deal with COVID, people need to social distance, wear masks, and avoid big gatherings. These are all dramatic and somewhat unpleasant changes.
Unfortunately, great marketing has been absent. Donald Trump could have taken then the lead – he has good marketing instincts – but he never understood the pandemic and the implications.
Governors stepped forward, but all too often the message was just informative or, even less productive, an attack on Donald Trump’s lack of leadership. Public health officials were generally informative and well-meaning but lacked the resources and marketing talent to put forth a credible case.
We are at a critical moment in the pandemic. In just a matter of days, assuming the J&J vaccine gets back on track, the U.S. will have plenty of doses available. That is already the situation in many regions. The challenge is convincing people to get a vaccine.
Some people have been highly motivated to get the jab. Marketers might call this group the “vaccine enthusiasts” or the “motivated vaccinated seekers.” Others are ambivalent. Still others are unsure, and there is a core group of vocal vaccine opponents.
Now you might think that getting vaccination rates up is not a big issue. It is easy to think: “If they don’t want a vaccine, well, that’s crazy but some people are. You can’t help that.”
The problem is that our society will only fully reopen when case counts drop. If a large portion of the population isn’t vaccinated, cases will remain stubbornly high. We are seeing that happen right now; many people are vaccinated, but counts are going up and activities are shutting down because unvaccinated people are getting infected.
It won’t be easy. Last week I spoke with a nurse while getting my vaccine, and he explained that he sees resistance all the time, even among people who have shown up to get a vaccine; “Some people say there is a transmitter in the vaccine, or it is made from fetal tissue. Other people say, ‘You know, more people have died from the vaccine than have died from COVID.’ It’s crazy.”
The good news is that we are seeing some better marketing. Joe Biden led the way with his promise that if we get vaccinated, wear masks and social distance for just a while longer, we might be able to have a normal, festive July 4.
Google released a fabulous piece of advertising. Take a look. It is emotional and hopeful (and a wonderful demonstration of Google’s remarkable capabilities).
A coalition of healthcare firms is running some good advertising, too.
Krispy Kreme is offering a free donut a day to people who have been vaccinated. I was tempted to drive over for a donut after my jab, at least until I realized it would be an hour in the car. That’s a lot of time for a free donut. Even a Krispy Kreme.
Staples is laminating vaccine cards for free.
Budweiser has a new campaign, too.
What all these marketers are tapping into is the power of insight and the need for a benefit. People have to understand what’s in it for them.
If marketers continue to embrace the challenge, there is every reason to think vaccination rates will go up. We might get past this pandemic yet, as we finally bring together amazing science and compelling marketing.