Brands in the News

It All Makes Sense: Buy Now, Pay Later and Vaccine Hesitancy

10 Aug 2021  

I’ve been catching up on reading this week and was struck by two stories.

Two Stories

First, vaccine hesitancy continues to be a major issue and uptake is falling short of expectations. Joe Biden’s July 4 prediction that we would be past the virus by Independence Day was far too optimistic. We missed out on AB InBev’s offer of a free beer for everyone when we reached 70%. In the U.S., only 50% of people are fully vaccinated.

It is a tragic missed opportunity. Infection rates are now climbing, hospitals are filling up and there is the new risk of the Delta variant, an even more contagious strain. This all shouldn’t be a surprise; teams in the Kellogg Healthcare and Biotech Case Competition anticipated the problem back in January and provided a host of ideas, most of which were never adopted by public health leaders.

Second, there is massive growth in the world of “Buy Now, Pay Later.” A host of new firms have joined the market: Klarna, Sezzle, even Apple. Square is paying $29 billion for Australian pay later firm Afterpay. The growth is astonishing because the basic offer of buy now and pay later isn’t new. Credit cards have been offering a version of this service for decades.

The Common Insight

Both trends, however, are easy to explain, and joined by a common insight: people are motivated by benefits. If you want people to change behavior or purchase a product, there has to be a significant benefit to spark the desired action.

COVID vaccinations are lagging because many people don’t want the jab, and don’t see a reason to get one. For these people, the vaccine is a lot of downside, for very little upside. While the perspective is baffling for the pro-vaccine crowd, it makes perfect sense. If you are nervous about the vaccine, or don’t want to deal with the side-effects, why get the shot? You probably won’t get COVID anyway.

Pay later schemes are just the opposite. The benefit is immediate: you get the item you want right away, and you don’t have to pay for it. Many of the programs are no fee for customers, so it is all positive. The programs are also better than credit cards, which impose sometimes onerous costs. Buy now, pay later, with no fees. Sure! What could be better!


There are two implications. First, if you want to inspire a behavior change, whether an action or a purchase, focus on communicating an important benefit.

Second, we desperately need a more powerful campaign to get vaccination rates up. Making vaccines mandatory for employment is a good step. Why get a vaccine? Here’s one reason: you can keep your job! Requiring vaccination to go to a restaurant or concert is a good step, too, and will provide motivation.

We need other incentives, too. Why not provide a $500 tax credit for everyone who is vaccinated? How about a free concert for people who are vaccinated? That free beer offer was pretty good, too.

Looking back, the vaccine rollout was a marketing fiasco. I hope it is not too late to get back on track before we end up with another year of masks, lock-downs and time at home watching Netflix.

A Final Note

Please get vaccinated, if you haven’t already, and don’t use the buy now, pay later programs. We can rise above short-term thinking if we try.

12 Responses

  1. toddholscher says:

    I live in a specific state and have some involvement with the school board and mayor’s office. One reason for the Anger against vaccinations is long-tailed and personal: after many years of seeing this area decline, residents have trust issues with the infrastructure: government, politicians, business, schools, etc. They trust sources that are flesh-and-blood: friends, co-workers, church leaders, children or spouse. As a trained marketer I see their feelings of hurt and betrayal.

  2. I believe the issue is that vaccination is not about “YOU”, but rather about “OUR” community, our children, our world, our health.

  3. Singapore has indirectly incentivized vaccination through opening up travel and dining in for fully vaccinated and placing restrictions on the rest. Potentially a good approach leveraging FOMO –

  4. emitahill says:

    Couldn’t agree more on the vaccine. No opinion on the pay later except, as you say, we’ve been doing that for ages with credit cards.

  5. Leonard Abels says:

    Thanks. For great messaging, look at the picture Liz Cheney posted early in covid of her dad wearing a mask with the caption “Real Men Wear Masks”. We can only speculate what a campaign using thought leaders and supported by national political leaders might have accomplished.

    Suggestion for a future column: How Sea World (damaged brand) and Victoria’s Secret (out-of) have repositioned themselves in recent years.

  6. jungstah says:

    Yes, the vaccine rollout has been a marketing fiasco. The problem may not be a lack of incentives and giveaways but a misunderstanding of the source of people’s hesitation and reluctance. Public health officials seem to be clueless about why some groups of people don’t want to be vaccinated. Getting a handle on the nature of people’s objections would be a start to making progress among the slow adopters.

    • Tim Calkins says:

      Well said. One of the great risks in marketing is believing that everyone thinks just like you. It is hard to shake this but so important, especially in today’s polarized world.

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