“I Am Not Throwin’ Away My Shot!”

Can we rebuild trust in vaccines?

We may now be closing in on one or more Covid-19 vaccines. That’s good news, but will it be the panacea everybody’s hoping for? We’re not sure. Most of us have more questions than answers. 

The one question on our mind is: how many people will actually decide to take this vaccine once it’s available?

A recent Yahoo News/YouGov survey reported that 1 out of 5 people indicated that they would not get the Covid vaccination. And 1 out of 4 said they’re not sure.  

What we know, emphatically, is resistance to vaccines is nothing unusual.

For 20+ years, Brado has partnered with global pharma brands to introduce new drugs and vaccines. Despite this pandemic’s intensity and chaotic spikes, it’s par for the vaccine course. As marketers and communicators, we must understand the psychological resistance: its basis, strength, and pervasiveness. Vaccine hesitancy is common among a broad array of audiences, with varying ethnicities, cultures, ages and genders.  

Vaccines are a particularly tough case in the realm of health-related behaviors. When you ask someone to get a vaccine, you ask them to do something that will have no immediate effect. It’s not an aspirin, their fever won’t go down. And it might hurt a little, or worse, prompt an adverse effect. And all because it will hopefully have a benefit at some indeterminate future time. 

Setting aside those who are first in line or otherwise willing to take tested vaccines, we know there’s a continuum of resistance, spanning from the hesitant “wait and see” to the suspicious “mmm…I don’t know” to the adamant “no way!” The Covid vaccine is unlikely to be different. 

What IS different, though—and what will impact this continuum—is the deep, growing erosion of trust in government, science, media and brands.   

We know societal mistrust is as real and as pervasive as the pandemic we’re trying to control. When trust has been violated or lost, significant segments of our society are suspicious of authoritative messages. Brands easily fall into this vacuum of false consumer beliefs and conspiracy theories. 

Healthy skepticism has now morphed into corrosive cynicism.  

This is our new reality. Covid has simply accelerated getting us to where we are no. People seem to agree with the late rocker, Lou Reed, “Don’t believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.”  

Communication without trust doesn’t work. 

Our job is to get to the heart of this mistrust, understand it, and shape communication so we can help our clients rebuild trust. Not bypass it. REBUILD it. 

We do this by combining proprietary search mining technology with empathic insight methodologies. We know this helps make it possible to decipher perceptual defenses and emotion-laden resistance. 

In our work for clients like Merck, we get to the root of hesitancy and mistrust.

We enter people’s everyday lives to explore their values, their priorities and their personal journeys – not just in relation to the vaccine in question, but in relation to other critical parts of their individual, family and community identities. 

All of these behavioral factors influence their decisions. 

In particular, we have look for how the values and priorities of those who reject a vaccine differ from those who embrace vaccines. We uncover the emotional formulas and motivators that help people bring the future benefits forward and make them salient

For example, Gardasil, the Merck vaccine for HPV, faced a unique uphill battle. For their pre-teen children, parents had to choose to vaccinate for a sexually transmitted disease. Hard to envision. Hard to stomach. The vaccine must be administered before sex becomes a reality. But no one is ready to think of their 11-year-old having sex…even years in the future. Our Values Link® tool achieved a critical insight that the brand and agency team could apply to creative strategy and messaging. The result? A campaign that generated record level vaccinations and growth for the brand. 

Facts could not break parents’ resistance, but through our work it became clear that stories about the unknown have power. Parents needed to genuinely feel a future where their grown kids would question their parents’ decision. Did my parents know there was a vaccine that could have prevented my cancer? 

The lesson here, and with every vaccine we’ve worked on, is that hesitance and resistance is real and human. We cannot overcome distrust with Facebook memes, political speeches, or well-intentioned handouts. We can only rebuild trust via understanding and empathy, powered by data. 

Jim Fisher, Ph.D.

Jim Fisher, Ph.D., is a senior strategic advisor at Brado, bridging the gap between academic research and marketing practice. He has extensive experience in business consulting and training, having served clients across a wide range of industries, including healthcare and consumer packaged goods. He is also a professor of marketing at Saint Louis University, where he teaches marketing strategy, business ethics, decision-making and brand communications. He makes extensive use of the case study method in his teaching and consulting, and he has written scores of cases and is a Past-President of the North American Case Research Association. He did his graduate work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (marketing) and Yale University (theology).

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