Wyoming health officials use ads to promote COVID-19 shots

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — It’s one thing to market a brand of perfume or a new kind of chocolate bar — things people want but don’t need. It’s another beast altogether to try to market a vaccine — something people need but that some in Wyoming may not want.

As vaccines roll out across the state and become available to more of its population, Wyoming health officials are tasked with getting as many people inoculated as possible with the available doses. Anna Kinder, executive director of the Casper-Natrona County Health Department, said last week that 50% of people offered the vaccine in the first phase of Tier 1, which began in mid-December, turned it down.

After months of fighting both COVID-19 and the misinformation around it, the county health department now faces the unique challenge of marketing a vaccine that, for some, could actually be the difference between life or death, the Casper Star-Tribune reports.

“Our main goal is to provide transparent, accurate and timely updates and information to the public,” said Hailey Bloom, the department’s spokesperson.

From there, Bloom said, people have to make their own decisions about getting vaccinated. The best they can do from a marketing standpoint is make sure the information being spread in Natrona County aligns with what scientists, local and state health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are saying.

Bloom said with the huge volume of information being released during the pandemic, the county health department needed some outside help.

“We needed the ability to push out information quickly and to many platforms,” Bloom said. “We knew this would be too large of an undertaking for our staff who are doing normal duties, assisting with COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, vaccination, etc., to add this on top.”

The Casper-based advertising agency Adbay has been the department’s mouthpiece for coronavirus-related information for months now, first focusing on promoting testing before making the recent pivot to vaccines. It’s been an all-hands-on-deck effort, a representative said, with videographers, graphic designers, copy writers and the web team all working closely with the health department. (The representative did not want to be named in this article, stressing that they wanted the focus to be on the health department.) Previous work in the health care realm, including a partnership with Wyoming Medical Center, prepared the firm for this mammoth undertaking.

Adbay’s project lead for the “Casper vs. COVID” campaign said their priority now is to make the information as straightforward and accessible as possible. To stay out of the fray of misinformation surrounding the pandemic, their approach was to keep materials positive and to avoid explicitly telling anyone what to do.

“We know there is some resistance to the COVID-19 vaccine in the community,” Bloom said. “However, we have focused on providing all of the information that we can so that people can do their research and make an educated, good decision for themselves.”

The campaign’s colors are bright teal and yellow; the font is bold. Casper is represented by a heart and coronavirus by a friendly cartoon rendering of a virus. The graphics are slapped on electronic billboards updated around the city in addition to the campaign’s minimal website and social media pages. “Casper vs. COVID” — it sounds simple when you put it like that.

Most recently, Casper vs. COVID released an online ad earlier this week letting people over 70 know that they’re eligible for the vaccine as of Wednesday. Bloom said that as of Thursday, appointment slots were completely booked and there are waitlists at all providers giving vaccinations in Natrona County.

The funky graphics and eye-catching statistical displays are meant to be friendly and approachable, the Adbay representative said. In addition to billboards informing drivers of new case counts or deaths in the county, they maintain a consistent online presence, supplying the department’s Facebook page with short informational videos. A few recent examples include Bloom answering some frequently asked questions about the vaccine and Wyoming Medical Center Chief of Staff Andy Dunn describing his experience being inoculated.

“We know that the public wants to hear from people in their own community so we really tried to capture that in those videos,” Bloom said.

That strategy — maximum transparency and frequent updates from local officials and marketers — is as close to grassroots advertising as information about a global pandemic can get. After all, it’s not a mass-produced candy bar they’re trying to push. It’s a potentially life-saving vaccine that brings the hope of an imminent return to normal.

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The Associated Press

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