Vaccine ads are working—particularly among Democrats

Research company finds the spots are persuasive, but there is still resistance among Republicans.

Vaccine ads are working—particularly among Democrats

The airwaves are teeming with messages aimed at convincing Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19. But just how persuasive are those ads?

 Overwhelmingly—at least depending on which side of the political spectrum you happen to fall—according to a leading tracker of advertising.

 Of 26 pro-vaccine spots analyzed by Ace Metrix, viewers found the messaging in 24 “inspiring, encouraging or motivating,” according to a report prepared for Ad Age. Budweiser’s anti-Super Bowl spot “Bigger Picture” (below) was seen as the most empowering overall.

Following that were CVS’s “One Step Closer” and Walmart’s “Ready to Help Our Community,” each of which promote the retailer’s role in administering the vaccines.

 “As we saw last year with ads that leaned into pandemic themes, viewers see through just words. That's why statements with action–as Budweiser did in donating Super Bowl advertising spend to help promote the vaccine–can have the most powerful impact on viewers,” said Sammi Scharninghausen, brand analyst for Ace Metrix, an company.

 “It's encouraging to see that within a year after the first ad addressing COVID-19 aired back in March 2020, we now have vaccine promotions,” she added. “While not nearly as common as COVID-19-themed ads were last spring, there are several nonprofits and brands raising awareness of the vaccine's availability.”

However, responses to the spots were highly dependent on political party affiliation, with Democrats signaling positive views about both the ads and finding “empowerment” in each. Republican viewers, meanwhile, were neutral to negative about the ads, with their comments signaling an appreciation for the website and education elements, but judging the PSAs as somewhat dishonest.

Since the vaccines started rolling out late last year, agencies like San Francisco’s Duncan Channon and Brownstein in Philadelphia nabbed multimillion-dollar assignments to create vaccine campaigns. The Ad Council has also been proactive in getting the word out about vaccinations, teaming with companies like Apple, Google and Telemundo under the auspices of the COVID Collaborative to produce spots featuring medical experts including Drs. Anthony Fauci and Sanjay Gupta and former U.S. presidents and their wives.

 “As more people in America are eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations, it’s critical that the communications industry continue to educate the country and ensure that accurate and vetted information is reaching consumers so they can make informed decisions for themselves and their loved ones,” said Michelle Hillman, chief campaign development officer at the Ad Council. “Seeing feedback that our PSAs are resonating and inspiring Americans is extremely heartening, knowing that increasing confidence in the vaccines is just one step in getting us all back to the moments and people we miss.”

 The Ad Council recently launched PSAs directing viewers to a website for answers to questions about the vaccine – ads Ace Metrix’s sample saw as both “informative” and “relevant/relatable,” with the message of education standing out. Moreover, 73% of viewers reported positive intent after seeing the creative, either going to the website advertised, discussing the ads with their circles of influence, taking the proposed action (vaccination) or seeking out further information. From 7% to 14% of consumers reported having a change in opinion as a result of the spot they viewed, while about one-third indicated no change in thought or action.

Ads with broader representation across race and gender groups and a more direct Q&A approach—“Back to Life” and “How it Starts”—achieved better engagement and also spurred the most action.

None of the PSAs–with the exception of the religiously oriented “Worship" (below)–were perceived as “exploitative” by viewers. Meanwhile, "How it Starts" got the most positive feedback across age and gender groups.

While the ads may have played some role in the promising development of one in four Americans being inoculated against the virus to date, it would seem advertisers still have their work cut out for them. A poll from Monmouth University last month revealed that fully one-quarter of the population remains unwilling to get vaccinated–again, with that hesitancy falling along political party affiliation. Thirty-six percent of Republicans are still wary of the vaccines, according to the survey, compared to just 6% of Democrats.

 On April 13, the Ad Council and COVID Collaborative announced that they had teamed with the healthcare tech company PatientPoint on a vaccine-awareness push across some 150,000 medical offices aimed to build trust among the most hesitant groups.