— Health

The U.S. Has Failed to Persuade Americans to Get Vaccines. Here’s How It Should Course-Correct

This is a marketing issue: the federal government fails to penetrate the key demographics that can get us over the finish line. America needs a vaccine chief marketing officer with a brilliant marketing strategy, or the pandemic will never end. In fact, it could get worse as reopening continues and mask mandates end.

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We can sell smartphones, sodas, and cars at high prices to almost every American. But we are struggling to give life-saving shots away for free to the same people. That’s a marketing failure that must be corrected.

Marketers divide customers into innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. In America, the percentage already vaccinated represents the “early adopters,” plus some who are highly vulnerable to the virus and need rather than want it. The “late adopters” are not showing any signs of adoption at all. On June 2, we administered 1.1 million vaccine doses, down from a peak of 3.38 million on April 13. Some vaccination centers have to close due to lack of demand.

The federal government is spending nearly $2 billion to encourage vaccine uptake. That’s more than double Coca-Cola’s U.S. marketing budget. But Coca-Cola has been building a brand for more than a century. COVID-19 vaccines are new and need more and better marketing.

There has not been any CMO, creative director, or ex-ad agency executive appointed to encourage the vaccine-uptake campaign. Instead, Anthony Fauci has appeared on news outlets. Kamala Harris has been leading the charge in Black communities. The Administration even deployed National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins to engage the white, conservative, and Christian base.

We wouldn’t all buy an iPhone if the Vice President told us to, and vaccines are no different. The American people do not like “elites.” At a time when scientists and politicians stand side-by-side, public-health officials like Fauci suffer from the same distrust as politicians: Only 43% of Americans say they would take the vaccine if Dr. Fauci or the Centers for Disease Control told them to. The government should learn from a young advertising executive named Alan Pottasch who, in 1961, when Coke was outselling.

By 6 to 1, Pepsi advised Pepsi to “stop talking about the product and start talking about the user.” The campaign he built didn’t talk about bubbles and flavor. Instead, it tapped into the desires of the individualistic young people who were forming their identity in the effervescent ‘60s. The Pepsi Generation campaign was born; Pepsi clawed back market share from Coke, it changed the game’s rules. Brands stopped selling customers better features; they started selling their customers better versions of themselves.

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