‘We wanted a vaccine ad based on hope’: arts and community sector PSAs fill government ‘vacuum’ | Health

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Arts organisations and the community sector – two sectors among the hardest hit by the pandemic – have stepped into the “vacuum” left by Australia’s government when it comes to vaccine messaging, releasing their own public service announcements encouraging Australians to get vaccinated.

This week two new ads were released: one by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra with the Melbourne Theatre Company and artists from the Australian Ballet; the other from the Victorian Council of Social Services. They’re the latest non-government PSAs after Channel Nine’s effort sparked controversy last month.

Both ads were made within weeks on a minimal budget, have been translated into multiple languages, and have been widely shared on social media. With hundreds of thousands of views, they’ve been received favourably compared with the government campaign, which has been criticised by marketing experts and is more reliant on scare tactics.

The Victorian arts industry’s campaign features performers including Virginia Gay, Tim Minchin and Deborah Cheetham urging audiences to “play their part” and get vaccinated.

The MSO’s managing director, Sophie Galaise, said making the campaign was a way for the orchestra to regain control over a situation that left it feeling powerless. At the end of Melbourne’s fourth lockdown, she says, the MSO and the performing arts industry more broadly “felt we were held hostage a bit”.

The group sensed there was vaccine hesitancy in the community that wasn’t being addressed by government advertising, so decided to run their own social media campaign instead.

“We do not want to replace the government,” she said. “They have their role to play with serious messaging … but we do want to help address some of the underlying reasons that make people hesitate about getting a vaccine.”

The VCOSS campaign, meanwhile, was conceived in-house via the organisation’s WhatsApp group. It features real people from diverse backgrounds talking about the good things that await on the other side of vaccinations.

Emma King, the VCOSS chief executive, told the Guardian that her organisation wanted to fill a gap. “We didn’t like the other ads that were out there. The government ones were primarily based on fear.

“We did not want an ad based on fear. We wanted an ad that was based on hope – about reclaiming our old lives and getting back the good things. It’s the role of government to do this, but nonetheless many of the people we work with have been heavily impacted by Covid – and we need to have different voices that might encourage people to get vaccinated.”

Adam Ferrier, consumer psychologist and co-founder of Thinkerbell Agency, described the federal campaign as being “as confused and convoluted as the vaccination rollout”.

He wondered what advice the government was receiving when it decided to “launch two ads at the same time that have no stylistic semblance and conflicting messages”.

Virginia Gay in the new MSO campaign. Photograph: MSO

Ferrier is not surprised that community groups and other non-government organisations have released their own ads.

“When there’s a power vacuum, either community groups or other organisations come in and plug the gaps … It feels completely on strategy for the MSO to do a vaccine commercial. The more people are vaccinated, the more concert tickets that get sold. What is interesting is that their ad is getting more positive attention than the federal government advertisements.”

The MSO had more concerts cancelled this week, Galaise said, which cannot be rescheduled this year. “The last 18 months have been very difficult for the morale of our amazing performers.”

Its campaign has been a welcome win after more than a year of cancellations – it has already received almost half a million views. “Our target is to reach as many people as possible, and help a movement towards being vaccinated.”

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