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Can clever brand strategy help nudge us out of a pandemic?

Sep 6, 2021

Across the nation, Australians are bracing themselves for a return to normality in the post-pandemic world. But for some there is still a major roadblock that could prevent them from enjoying this freedom: vaccine hesitancy.

I recently participated in a live webinar with Richard H. Thaler, behavioural economist and the author of the Nudge Theory series of books, in which he was asked how we could better ‘nudge’ people towards vaccinations. Thaler explained that people who tend to be vaccine hesitant often had little exposure to data and may have trouble understanding it.

Their behaviour is fuelled by emotion, rather than rational reasoning. Add to this the influence of confirmation bias, which is amplified as people are now less exposed to positive herd behaviours during a lockdown and more reliant on their small social media bubbles where an algorithm continues to feed them content that reinforces their beliefs.

From the start of the pandemic and especially with the vaccine rollout, the government has relied heavily on a rational approach in its communications. While rationale is necessary to present the facts, emotion always prevails – especially among data-shy groups that still need convincing as to why they should get the jab.

This got me thinking about the role trusted brands could play in nudging Australia’s vaccine rollout in the right direction. Aside from demystifying the data and promoting easy-to-consume facts, brands can also wield their influence by emotionally incentivising people.

Qantas is a prime example of a brand using its trusted reputation to communicate the importance of this issue. The airline, which frequents Roy Morgan’s annual list of  Australia’s most trusted brands, has tapped into human emotion with its recently launched ad campaign, Fly Away. The advertisement focuses on incentives and reward, serving as a reminder to Australians that getting vaccinated is their ticket to travel again and see their loved ones.

Qantas has created a great emotive piece that links the benefit of being vaccinated to a real human truth. If we had more little nudges like that from trusted brands that demonstrate the positive outcomes of us making the right decisions for the collective good, it might help to get those people that are sitting on the fence to either act a little bit faster or be pushed into that herd mentality.

The return of international travel is an attractive reward for many Australians – and one that aligns with Qantas’ brand purpose. It is authentic to what the brand stands for.

Not all brands can offer the same, and nor should they. Brands need to look at initiatives that align with their own brand purpose. If not through communicating the benefits of the vaccine or rewarding customers, then through more functional means.

This includes Bunnings and potentially Officeworks offering up their car parks and warehouse spaces as vaccination hubs. Or it could include Uber using its delivery services to help get vaccines out into remote communities.

The brands who get it right will not only nudge the vaccine rollout in the right direction, but also have the opportunity to forge positive and trusted relationships with customers in a post-pandemic world.

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Peta Quirk is the Strategy Partner of Brand Council, an independent consultancy with a depth of experience in purpose-led transformation and corporate brand strategy. Brand Council works with some of Australia’s and the world’s premier brands by using purpose to drive growth, value and economic and behavioural change.