Experts have welcomed the release of a new Australian ad campaign to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations, but say the messaging needs to be improved to better reach the nation’s culturally diverse communities.
The Morrison government on Sunday unveiled the new “Arm Yourself” advertising initiative aimed at encouraging Australians to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
The ad, which is set to be rolled out across a range of channels – including television, radio and online – shows a series of bare arms with band-aids stuck on to signify the individuals have had the jab.
Associate Professor Holly Seale at UNSW’s School of Population Health said that while it was “really pleasing” to see a new ad campaign, the video was “not the campaign she was envisaging”.
Dr Seale said the message still had too limited a focus and potentially wouldn’t resonate with wider culturally diverse communities or galvanise the population into action.
“Vaccination choices can be quite personal,” she told SBS News.
“I’ve been doing research with stakeholders that support culturally and linguistically diverse communities over the last couple of months, and in every interview, without fail, these stakeholders talk about how their communities want to go back to their country of origin, to visit friends and relatives; and they’re asking whether the vaccine can get them closer to that goal.”
She said the Arm Yourself ad was “still very Australian-centric” and its central message was about protecting the country’s borders and community.
“While these are perfectly appropriate messages, it still may not be the message that’s going to reach the broadest communities.”
Siimon Reynolds, the creative mind behind the 1987 “Grim Reaper” campaign, which drew attention to the AIDS epidemic, described the Arm Yourself campaign as “super weak”.
“It says nothing more than ‘get the vaccine’,” he told the ABC on Sunday afternoon.
“If they spent $21 million saying what we’ve been told for weeks and weeks, then that’s just a colossal waste of money – and a terrible, terrible missed opportunity.”
The cost of the latest advertisements are included in the $40 million previously allocated by the federal government to its public health information campaign.
Mr Reynolds compared it unfavourably with a new Sydney-specific ad that shows a young woman gasping for breath in a hospital bed, saying the latter was “ten times better” at demonstrating the severity of COVID-19.
“The hesitancy has got to be overcome. You can’t overcome that by simply saying the same things again and again. You have to wake people up, you have to make people think it will easily happen to them, and if it does (happen), it’s going to be a disaster for that.
“To do that, you’ve got to do something different. You can’t simply have an arm with a band-aid as a way of changing millions of people’s points of view.”
The Arm Yourself campaign has also been accused of not effectively reaching some multicultural communities, with Labor MP Tim Watts questioning whether the “arm yourself” pun would translate into other languages, such as Vietnamese and Cantonese.
Lieutenant General John Frewen said the campaign was about encouraging “community spirit” and would continue to evolve as.
“The Arm Yourself campaign seeks to rally Australians to both arm themselves and their friends, loved ones and communities against COVID-19,” he told reporters on Sunday afternoon.
“The materials will be adapted for culturally-diverse groups and for Indigenous communities, and they will be translated into many languages.”
Lieutenant General Frewen said the information rollout would continue to be “adapted” as more COVID-19 vaccines arrive in the country.
“It is very tailorable to specific regions and specific language and cultural groups,” he said.
How does Australia’s vaccine ad compare to that of other countries?
The Australian government took a markedly different approach to other countries, with Ms Seale noting its overt “military” style.
“It does tend to use that language around war and the military – that’s been a theme throughout this pandemic,” she said. “You know the ‘we want to win the war and get back to normality’ and this plays into that as a recurring theme.”
By contrast, she said she believed New Zealand’s ad was the most broadly effective in terms of communicating with a very wide audience.
New Zealand’s ad, released in May, featured a diverse range of people celebrating the “door to freedom”.
The campaign ad suggested COVID-19 was “making plans for 2021, 2022 and for the rest of forever”, encouraging people to get vaccinated as soon as possible to reopen the economy.
“I think it draws on an emotive space, which I’m yet to see in some of the others (Australian ads). it speaks to a younger crowd, the ad featured a lot of younger faces in the ad,” Ms Seale said of New Zealand’s campaign.
“For people under the age of 40 – is this [the Arm Yourself campaign] the best ad to drive them into practice? We’re going to need them to get vaccinated. We want to be priming them now and getting them raring to go – is this the ad that’s going to do it?”
The United Kingdom drew on celebrity, featuring humourous cameos from Sir Elton John and Sir Michael Caine encouraging people to get vaccinated.
The video, which was released in February, showed both stars supposedly auditioning for an advertisement to promote the jab.
Singapore leaned on disco, and similarly used famous people with a colourful ad featuring 90s sitcom star Phua Chu Kang and comedian Gurmit Singh.
“Better get your shot, steady pom pi pi,” the jingle says, using a reference to somebody who remains calm in difficult situations.
Singh tells viewers “low cases isn’t no cases” and says “the vaccine is not anyhow whack”.
The United States featured former presidents on both sides of politics encouraging the population to get the jab, including Barack Obama, George Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.
In the video, Mr Obama says getting vaccinated is the “first step to ending the pandemic and moving our country forward”.
Mr Bush says “the science is clear: these vaccines will protect you and those you love from this dangerous and deadly disease”, with Mr Clinton adding: “They could save your life”.
Asked whether Australia had left its ad rollout late in comparison to other countries, Ms Seale noted the government had always said it would “evolve” the ads.
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing,” she said. “If we hadn’t seen these spikes [in Sydney] – if we had been bubbling along at the same pace … we weren’t dealt those cards, and now we’re on the scramble.
“Colleagues and I were putting that call out at least a month ago, saying we’d like to see a change. That wasn’t because of the shift with community transmission, per se, but those concerns about stagnating coverage, and the proportion of people saying they may not get [the vaccine].”