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Branding the jab: the secret weapon to increase vaccination rates

University of South Australia Media Release

As the global race for COVID-19 vaccination continues, new research from the University of South Australia shows that the uptake of vaccines could be vastly improved if approved vaccine brands received more positive promotion and media coverage.

Conducted by UniSA’s Ehrenberg-Bass Institute of Marketing Science, the study examined more than 2400 unvaccinated adults across three countries – Australia, UK and USA – to identify if people’s willingness to be vaccinated changes when presented with different vaccine brands.

It found that the more positive information people have about vaccine brands, the more willing they are to be vaccinated with that brand. Given that positive stories about brands typically have 2-3 times higher reach than negative stories, this finding is particularly significant.

Lead researcher, Professor Jenni Romaniuk says getting people vaccinated has become a combination of two challenges – getting people willing to be vaccinated at all, and getting people willing to be vaccinated with the available vaccine brand.

“If we apply brand science to vaccination willingness, we can see how people’s awareness and knowledge of vaccine brands influence their uptake of the COVID-19 vaccination,” Prof Romaniuk says.

“Our research shows that choice is an important factor that is influencing rates of vaccination.

“About 50 per cent of people spontaneously indicated a first-choice vaccine (45 per cent in the UK; 54 per cent in the US; and 49 per cent in Australia), yet unlike the UK or the US, people in Australia don’t yet have a choice of vaccine, and are instead allocated a specific vaccine brand.

“This poses a problem, because when people are restricted to a single vaccine brand, the only choices they have are either to remain unvaccinated or wait until their first choice might become available.

“The logical solution would be to offer a wider range of vaccines so people can exercise their right to choose which one they prefer, yet with current supply issues, this is currently impossible.

“In this scenario, the government needs to make the available vaccines far more desirable to the general public to increase people’s vaccine brand willingness – and this can be achieved through positive brand associations, via positive advertising and positive media coverage.”

While the research highlights opportunities for governments to broadly promote vaccine brands, it also highlights the important role that the media is playing in building vaccine brand knowledge.

“Whether intended or not, the outcome of having multiple vaccines available at the same time has created a unique scenario where vaccine brands are competing for attention and share of mind – not only via government sources, but also via mainstream media,” Prof Romaniuk says.

“Mainstream news about brands is unusual. Unlike paid and controlled advertising, the media report both positive and negative aspects of vaccine brands, which places them in a very powerful position to swing people’s opinions.

“Our research shows that most people (UK, 87 per cent; US, 82 per cent; Australia, 86 per cent) had seen or heard something in the media or via word-of-mouth about vaccines.

“Yet in Australia, people felt negative messages dominated the media (likely as a result of negative media about AstraZeneca and blood clots) as opposed to positive stories in the UK and US where it is more evenly balanced.

“Our research shows that no single perception was more effective in increasing willingness for any brand. Instead it was the total number of positive associations people had mattered – and this finding was consistent across all brands tested (Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson) and in all three countries.

“While creating entertaining advertising can help get attention, it’s important that this communicates useful messages – stories that hero the development of specific vaccines, the approval processes a brand went through, and positive user experiences can all contribute to increasing public confidence in the brands on offer.”

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  1. Clare De Mayo

    Really? Wouldn’t it be morally superior to educate people in a balanced way (both pros and cons and real statistics) and leave them to make an educated choice? Or are we going to resort to marketing manipulation tactics and threats and coercion (passports and banns) to overide people’s free choices? (one of the fundamental outcomes of the Nuremburg trials was that people would never again be forced to undergo medical procedures against their will)

  2. Michael Taylor

    I’m with you, Clare. I’m appalled that Australians aren’t given a choice of vaccinations (at this stage). The government has had six months to sort this out. Epic fail.

    I don’t agree with the above (in the media release) that Australia is about the only country that has concerns over AstraZeneca. It fails to acknowledge that over 20 countries have banned or not approved AZ. Discussion over.

  3. Jon Chesterson

    This article starts off advocating choice and yes psychology and positive promotion do play a useful role, but it must be honest, up front, genuine and based on real science, not pseudo ‘marketing science’, we have had a gutful of this from the cut throat corporate world and unbridled neoliberalism that destroys culture, humanity, our environment and the planet. The first half of the article is soft on science, little discussion of any evidence, but at least on face value agreeable on human choice, noting the role of positive psychology in marketing a brand. Hopefully a good brand, not leave it to chance, the pharmaceutical industry, free trade or our government for that matter. Something such as this dealing with people’s lives (life and death) must be regulated and applicable equally to all.

    But to suggest this is the solution – ‘In this scenario, the government needs to make the available vaccines far more desirable to the general public to increase people’s vaccine brand willingness – and this can be achieved through positive brand associations, via positive advertising and positive media coverage.” I’d expect that kind of marketing strategy from tourism Scomo falling out of a fictional novel like George Orwell’s 1984. Aren’t we in the year 2021? That is an appalling suggestion and to come out of an Australian University in this day and age, as a media release is just unconscionable and shameful. This is not science or evidence, it is not truthful or honest, it is unethical and immoral, bowing to the manipulative arms of commercialism, power, profit, deception and corporate greed. Where is the research here – ah, I see it, “Ehrenberg-Bass Insitute of Marketing Science’, isn’t that an oxymoron, ‘marketing science’? Certainly this kind of suggestion flies in the face of all that we hold dear on science and human bioethics.

    Available brands in Australia to people over 50 – there is only one brand, AstraZeneca and it is the wrong brand for scientific reasons: the serious damage it can cause to ‘ a rare few’ (shifting sands now sitting around 1/40,000 cf zero from alternatives like Moderna and Pfizer, we have been lied to by both government and the TGA), and death (blood clotting carries a weight of 25% lethality); lower efficacy in preventing community transmission; even poorer performance with variants (New England Journal of Medicine reports as low as 10 % with some variants eg South African cf Pfizer, 50-70%) and that is not adequate protection whatever the marketing promotion and positive spins put on it. It ignores the gross injustice and ethics of giving people under 50 a choice between the two vaccines available in Australia and people over 50 none, dividing families and whole populations. Doesn’t the article cite people need to be given a choice on alternative brands for this to work? It ignores the vulnerability of older people and their medical conditions and comorbidities ‘ the real science’ – This can’t be ironed by ‘marketing research’. It speaks of coercion and dishonesty which are all reasons why 27% of Australians or more have said ‘no’ to AstraZeneca, not to vaccination – That is not hesitancy or confusion, that is clarity, definitive and very specific, hesitancy is not the correct frame for our problem here and no market research therefore will resolve this dilemma. Neither did it help last year when leading Liberal politicians such as Sharma bought shares in CSL and a few days later Morrison announced it would be the backbone to Australia’s vaccination program before any major and reliable research had been conducted, all our eggs practically dumped in one basket, and clearly they were the wrong eggs. Shouldn’t we remind ourselves this was supposed to be a vaccine not for profit! So is the answer to cover this up and improve the marketing message? It is precisely the covering up, dishonesty, fraud and lies that has in part Brought us to where we are today. We don’t want more, we need far less of this, less reliance on marketing research and politics and more on ‘real science’, the biological and human sciences must be the foundation stones.

    Market research riding on quality scientific and ethical studies and giving people a choice I can agree with. But marketing research to sew the population up on lies and a defective product when there are better and safer options out there is nothing less than antisocial corporate hegemony and abuse of power. This is not the way to treat people if you want to encourage responsible vaccination.

    If this is what they are teaching graduates at the University of South Australia or the quality of their research and politics, and a university media release for all plain to see, then god help us. I won’t be sending any daughter or grandchild of mine there and I will not be listening to any scientific research from such an institution to tell me otherwise.

  4. Andrew J. Smith

    Also, backgrounded by decades of the media etc. promoting science scepticism, especially related to climate science, and allowing people to make their own expert judgements.

    While many question why AZ was chosen, maybe to do with AZ CEO Pascal Soriot being on CSL board from mid ’20 then stepping down January this year (due to a conflict of interest with a new acquisition); of course one is not suggesting influence on any vaccine choice.

    Rather than various sources and types of vaccination, the LNP govt. continued with the same culture of dealing with usual or known partners, had success with Covid restrictions when it was ripping through e.g. US, UK, Europe etc., now they have caught up, with Australia caught with trousers down, on vaccination rollouts (not helped by PM’s Office wanting kudos and not Labor state govts.).

    More importantly will be India/China, with the capability of ramping up production of vaccines and related for African and other nations.

  5. king1394

    As far as I’m concerned, I do have a choice, but it is between being vaccinated with a 1:40,000 chance of dying and not being vaccinated – living quietly in country NSW, my chances of contracting COVID 19 are miniscule.

  6. Jon Chesterson


    Will no-one roll their sleeve up for sake of this secret weapon from the University of South Australia? Will positive spin, a firm dose of political psychology and the brilliance of a Goebbel’s like marketing mindset not lift the fortunes of AstraZeneca and the silver ampoules lying in testate on Commonwealth clinic shelves? Will no-one rescue Morrison, Hunt and the TGA from this trench they have dug for themselves, the very same trench they are so ready and willing to throw people over 50 into, and half the wretched and thankless population of Australia?

    Me thinks this press release is more an overture for university government funding on a pointless errand of coercive navel gazing marketing research and another ill-conceived campaign of endless empty rattling of cages across our TV and internet screens. What a tragic waste of public money! What a tragic extortion of science and human intellect that Australian universities would stoop so low to deviously sponge money for their business schools from the public purse – And in doing so, insult us with this tormented distraction to twist the hearts and minds of Australians and beat them into submission. Shall we not line up like cattle and roll up our sleeves for queen and country for the sake of putting us through such torture?

    The more I think about what this media release is really saying, asking for, the more it makes me angry, but no so much that the authors and academics behind this ruse have shot themselves in the foot, unwittingly revealing their true intentions to the public they would so readily deceive and corrall. They sell themselves, tertiary education and research I believed were for the betterment of humanity, for a few dollars more, subservient to the beast of reckless government and unbridled neoliberalism.

  7. leefe

    This is the sort of attitude one expects from this misgovernment: never mind the truth, never mind fairness, just tweak the advertising enough and we’ll get away with it.

    A pox on all your houses. Literally, in the case of the pollies.

  8. Vikingduk

    Well said Jon Chesterson, thank you. Though there will be many who fail to see the pig behind the lipstick, who will believe the liar from the shire and sick hunt, who believe the corrupted media. A cast of lickspittles ready and willing to whore themselves selling lies and deceit, a cast this uni has just auditioned for.

    Sickening and disgusting that so many resources are in play to sell a large part of the population an inferior remedy, a remedy an Australian company can manufacture, do wonders for its share price, not so good for some recipients. Oh well, collateral damage, need to break a few eggs keep the money rolling in.

  9. wam

    As a recognised simpleton, the question I would ask albo and Scummo is: “Did you have the Pfizer injection?” My belief is the pollies and families got Pfizer and there are many more of them than the disabled in care, who are yet to get any jabs. ps ‘Epic fail’, Michael could be a controversy that the auto cue journalists like Karl baby may run with?? (Let’s hope it doesn’t happen to the real magpies???)

  10. Viv

    The choices are eg DNA-based (AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson) or mRNA-based (Pfizer, Moderna).
    mRNA-based products have a shocking history in animal trials not to mention the current quantum of adverse reactions and deaths in the US, UK and EU. If the government, via some Marketing body, wants more people vaccinated it needs to provide more science, not more spin. It could start by getting its house in order with a legacy issue- CSL and its blood product disaster that led to the founding of the organization InfectedBloodAustralia. Australians dodged a bullet when CSL withdrew from the vaccine race.

  11. GL

    Scummo had the Pfizer (he’s too precious to get the AZ) while Ghrunt, being the hero he is, had the AstraZeneca.

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