This time last year, a number of my friends spent their Ramadan nights praying for pharmaceutical companies to come up with a Covid-19 vaccine soon so the devastation caused by the pandemic could end, and they can go back to their normal lives.
The vaccine came but it did not come soon enough. We have lost more than 3 million people to the pandemic around the world. The world economy was tipped into its deepest recession since 1930s and unemployment rates in major economies such as the US climbed to the highest level since in decades. Now that multiple vaccines are available and there is a possibility of ending the pandemic-driven devastation, the same friends are hesitant to take the vaccine, and would rather push their decision to inoculate to a later date.
The misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines is largely to be blamed for people's suspicions and hesitancy towards inoculation. The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer report revealed that 59 per cent people who practice poor "information hygiene" – not checking the source of information shared – are less willing to get vaccinated within the first year of its availability. However, 70 per cent of those who practice good information hygiene are likely to take the Covid-19 vaccine jabs.
UAE's success in mass inoculation
The UAE is leading by example when it comes to circulating the correct information and the public’s access to medical professionals to address their concerns. The country has passed the milestone of 10 million vaccine doses administered, with half of the UAE's population inoculated. However, elsewhere in the world it still proves to be challenge, which puts lives at risks and one where marketers can assist.
Disseminating correct information
With so much misinformation and mistrust clouding people’s judgement, counter measures are needed. Business is the most trusted institution with a global trust level of 61 per cent, according to the Edelman report. A partnership between businesses and marketers can help in disseminating the correct information. This can be achieved through retail space messaging, through social media pages of businesses, through messages by chief executives and by hosting virtual seminars/webinars with doctors who can address people’s concerns.
Businesses can also help by diverting part of their social responsibility budgets towards mass inoculation awareness programmes. They can fund hotlines where people can reach medical professionals to answer their concerns.
Marketers and businesses can also tie-up with health authorities’ in funding and producing creative public service advertisement campaigns to encourage people to vaccinate.
Because misinformation is widely spread, we need to double the effort to get the right messages out, and they should be shared through the same platform where misinformation spread from. Marketers need to follow the same creative approach when promoting a product or service.
This means that the messages should speak differently to different target groups in channels they are tuned into and should be in their languages. Businesses can collaborate with influencers on social media to reach different target groups. Perhaps a social media personality’s page can be used to host a live session to debunk the misinformation.
The message should also be packaged differently and not be repetitive as it will lose people’s attention. As with any advertising message, it will take time to build trust. However, working on the right message and collaborating with the right people to share it is key to success.
Some of the most effective marketing campaigns are ones that would include an offer, a discount or a prize. In the case of vaccines, the reward is to be reunited with your loved ones, to protect the world and going back to our “normal” lives. This is what the audience needs to be reminded of constantly.
One way to build a sense of community around that and to encourage people is for businesses to award those vaccinated with special membership benefits, or a special wrist band or bumper sticker that they can wear to show their support and encourage others to do the same. On a government level this can be achieved by waiving certain fees or offering a reward programme in collaboration with the business sector.
People’s behaviours can be changed with the collaboration of creative marketers and it can help the world achieve its vaccination goals faster.
Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi.