Speed Reads

Hearts and Minds and Vaccines

The U.S. Ad Council's new national COVID-19 vaccine ad campaign goes for the soft sell

Many people are counting the hours until they can get their COVID-19 vaccination, and a much smaller number will never get the shot, but about 40 percent of Americans say they are on the fence — and that's the group the Ad Council is targeting with its new ad campaign, launching Thursday. The ads will run for months on TV, radio, streaming services, social media, and other platforms. They will evolve with the availability of the vaccine and any new developments.

The ad campaign's tagline is "It's Up to You" — specifically, it's up to you to learn about the vaccines, says Ad Council president and CEO Lisa Sherman. But the ads also suggest it's up to everyone to end this pandemic so we can hug our loved ones again without potentially infecting them with a deadly virus. The Ad Council directs viewers to a new website, GetVaccineAnswers.org, with information about the vaccines and where they can get inoculated.

The Ad Council is the nonprofit group behind such public service ads as the Smokey Bear campaign and "Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk" ads. This ad campaign, using more than $50 million in donated funds and $500 million worth of donated media and talent, is one of the organization's biggest and most ambitious efforts. "We're dealing with the biggest issues of our lifetime," Sherman said. "We recognized pretty quickly that unless people could learn more about the vaccine and get educated, they may not take them. And then we wouldn't be any better off next year than we are this year."

The Ad Council shaped its campaign on months of in-depth focus groups and surveys. "Some possible messaging approaches, such as encouraging Americans to be vaccinated because it's 'the right thing to do,' were rejected as pushy or accusatory in surveyed groups," The Washington Post reports. The soft sell worked better.

People need good information "to help them make good decisions for themselves," Liz Hamel, who oversees coronavirus surveys at the Kaiser Family Foundation, tells the Post. "We know that most people who are still deciding whether to get the vaccine want it to be their personal choice."

The Ad Council's ads will fill the gap between an aborted $300 million ad blitz envisioned by the Trump administration and the Biden administration's coming pro-vaccine campaign. These ads pull the heartstrings, but other Ad Council COVID-19 campaigns are a little more fun. Peter Weber