News Coronavirus Which famous face should front Australia’s rollout?
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Which famous face should front Australia’s rollout?

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It could be Kylie. Maybe even Magda.

A popping tune or a riff on the anthem …  “Australians all let us vac-cin-ate”.

Vaccine uptake experts are waiting with bated breath for the rollout of the federal government’s COVID vaccine campaign, which is set to hit TV screens and YouTube channels in July.

On Tuesday Lieutenant General John Frewen announced a new phase of the vaccine campaign is imminent.

It’s expected the anticipated campaign will target younger Australians under 40, and hopefully, reduce vaccine hesitancy.

So far the campaign has not gone down well.

Earlier this year the federal Department of Health funded a series of short video ads featuring former deputy medical officer Dr Nick Coatsworth and other clinicians.

Research fellow, Vaccine Uptake Group, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute Jessica Kaufman said the government needed to do better this time around.

It needs to be engaging, it can’t be boring, we want people to watch it, “ Dr Kaufman told The New Daily. 

The campaign needs to be just more than one ad, include diverse spokespeople and hit the right emotional note, she said.

The Singapore ad, for example is colourful and a little bit strange, which works well, but won’t hit the right note for everyone, Dr Kaufman said.

“In terms of other countries, I’m partial to the New Zealand ad. It plays on national pride and it targets different groups. It’s got a lot of charm and is a little funny,” she said.

“The NZ ones thread the needle. A bit of pathos and humour and full representation of the community.”

It’s not uncommon for celebrities to take front and centre stage in COVID campaigns. Elton John, Michael Caine and Dolly Parton have all spruiked the vaccine overseas.

But Dr Kaufman says the decision is fraught with danger.

“You have to find someone like Elton John,” she said.

“A figure that no one will be mad about, and they’ll be widely accepted. It could be Kylie [Minogue], someone everyone is going to have a positive recitation to.”

Associate Professor in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne, Lauren Rosewarne, said a successful vaccine campaign didn’t necessarily need to have a famous face to lead it.

“If we look at the recent and highly celebrated ad that came out of France, it wasn’t reliant on famous people at all,” Dr Rosewarne said.

“Sometimes we get a little bit obsessed with well-recognised faces when, in reality, effective communication can be achieved without celebrities.”

Importantly, the messaging needed to be clear, concise and built within a bigger campaign, she said.

“Before making an ad, we need to decide what it is that we’re trying to achieve. Are we trying to encourage people to get vaccinated? Debunk health concerns? Counter conspiracy theories? One 30-second commercial can’t achieve all of that.”

All the ads, but no COVID vaccine

The vaccine rollout has been plagued with confusing messaging and a lack of transparency around supply.

Dr Kaufman said the federal government was likely biding its time – concerned it would create a high demand before supply hit the country.

I am of the opinion that just waiting until you have supply is a mistake. There’s a lot of people with questions who are forming their opinions already,” Dr Kaufman said.

“An ad campaign that’s emotional and exciting is one thing, but it needs to be backed up by clear constant communication.”

Another piece in a chaotic jigsaw?

Adjunct Professor at the Kirby Institute Bill Bowtell was heavily involved in the successful HIV/AIDS campaigns of the 1980s.

He said the fact the vaccine rollout messaging was already “confused and confusing” did not bode well for the rest of the campaign.

“To have a communication campaign, you have to have a clear message to sell,” Professor Bowtell said.

“A communications campaign that is trying to sell conflicting, cornering and contradictory messages is not going to work.”

He said it was useless launching a campaign until the public understood how many vaccines we have, what number on the way, and when exactly they will arrive.

“No parts of this rollout has joined up with anything else,” he said.

“They can’t be transparent and open about supply, they can’t resolve the problems they have with AstraZeneca, and then the communication has been an abject failure. They can’t figure it out.”