Ad Of The Month

Covid Vaccination



PSAs (Public Service Announcements) are one of the trickiest styles of advertising to get right. It’s tempting to go for high-impact, shock-value communications, in the manner of drink-drive and road safety films. But while this creates a high level of emotional intensity, it leaves people feeling scared, sad or angry – none of them emotions which do much to create behaviour change in the long run. And behaviour change is almost always the goal.

So at System1 we recommend taking a feel-good route even for PSA films – leave the audience focused on the benefits, not the risks. The danger here, though, is the opposite – you might end up with work which soft-pedals a situation and fails to be intense enough to spur quick action.

The Covid crisis has been a comms test for Governments and health services around the world. Britain’s NHS has at times used both approaches, the negative and the positive. To encourage rule compliance, it’s used hard-hitting posters emphasising the cost to others of bending Covid-19 rules. But vaccination presents a different challenge.

The Covid vaccination campaign concentrates on one major barrier to vaccine uptake: people’s safety fears. Not everyone who distrusts the vaccine believes it’s injecting nanobots or microchips. Plenty are simply worried they will get an adverse reaction, get sick, or not be protected properly by the jab.

To allay those fears the NHS has put together an ad starring Elton John and Michael Caine, two very familiar and trusted faces. Elton is shown ‘auditioning’ for the ad first, pretending to get the jab and bantering with the ‘director’. Then the ad switches to Caine being seen to get the vaccine and reassuring the viewer further.

Why does the ad need two stars – why not just use Elton or Michael Caine? Because it gives the ad a narrative arc, switching from comical Elton to reassuring Michael. The Elton sequence sees negative emotion rise – it draws out people’s fears. Then the switch to Caine shows how straightforward and painless the jab actually is, and the negative emotion drops away.

When we look at the second-by-second emotional Trace for the ad, there aren’t that many peaks. But the gentle approach does its job – the overall emotional response is a huge 5.6-Stars, really excellent for a PSA. Just as importantly, Spike – predicting short-term action – and Brand Fluency (how well people connect it to the NHS) are exceptional too.

This is a grade A piece of public health communication which will effectively help the UK’s vaccination drive, and a demonstration of how a positive approach can work wonders in a PSA context.