What Sir Elton and Sir Michael remind all marketers

What we can learn from the latest vaccine campaign.

Feb 11, 2021

By Abigail Mayhew

It’s easy to do what many of us have been doing, spotting all the failures in COVID-19 communications. The real value is in what they remind us about where marketing can go wrong, particularly when the key pillars aren’t in place or get lost along the way. There is also a saying that ‘everyone comes to marketing with an open mouth’, that wider stakeholders need to be managed intelligently by marketers. Has this happened with COVID-19 and Government Ministers and their choice of Sir Elton and Sir Michael for the vaccination campaign?

It starts with truly understanding your audience

It seems as if older white members of the population are mostly getting vaccinated, motivated by a desire to return to normality but also because there must be a level of trust in authority, the NHS, and the vaccines. The challenge is amongst BAME members of the population where legacy discrimination and historical scandals mean they find it hard to trust authority and the vaccines. They need credible reassurance, ideally from people they identify with and who have had the vaccine.

Clarity and simplicity over complication or cleverness

Much of the communications around COVID-19 have been criticised for being too complex and inconsistent since the start of the crisis. While the cognitive information models brought to life in agencies in notions such as USP have been long discredited, complexity still needs to be managed and then brought to life in engaging ways. Sounds simple, but the crisis shows that in stressful situations with multiple stakeholders responsible these basic principles get lost.

Holding onto audience understanding over subjective views

In the 90s I worked in Government communications. I was responsible for convincing Ministers of the communications strategy, messaging and choice of celebrity influencers to reinforce a drugs misuse strategy targeted at teenagers.

We shared the harm minimisation message, why it was right for this audience and the credible celebrities who would reinforce this in advertising, those who had already been through drug problems and come out the other side. All the celebrities were rejected, and two replacements were demanded. It didn’t matter that they went against audience understanding, the messaging strategy and necessary celebrity credibility: Elton John and Michael Caine.

Some things never change.