Ananya Pathak
Points of View

Can the vaccine certificate become a discount coupon for brands?

It's already happening at a very small scale. Perhaps, it will explode once the authorities open up jabs for the under-45 cohort. Which segments will leverage this?

While the government dabbles in 'vaccine diplomacy', we at afaqs! are looking at a concept called 'vaccine marketing'. Essentially, it entails offering discounts to people who have taken the vaccine.

Recently, The Indian Express reported that few retail outlets in the USA (Krispy Kreme, a donuts and coffee outlet; Chobani) have begun incentivising vaccinations by offering freebies, discounts and perks to the consumers who can prove that they have taken the shot.

In India, as The Times of India reported recently, some eateries in Delhi (Punjab Grill, Daryaganj, Ophelia, You Mee, Lord of the Rings) have started giving discounts to the vaccinated.

Uber is providing free rides to the vaccination centre. The cab hailing app is doing so in association with Robin Hood Army (RHA), a zero-funds and volunteer-based organisation that works to get surplus food from restaurants to the less fortunate sections of society.

Does this trend have the potential to grow? Some experts feel it can be scaled up only after the authorities allow people under 45 years of age to get vaccinated, as that's where the bulk of many a brand's target group lies.

Once that happens, which product categories are best placed to leverage this freebie-in-exchange-for-good-behaviour marketing tool? Things could play out in two ways, one would imagine. First, for offline haunts like restaurants and theatres, 'vaccine certificate marketing' is a tangible way of making physical spaces safer for patrons.

So, discounts in exchange for proof-of-jab could actually make a real world difference for segments with offline presence. Travel booking platforms (MakeMyTrip, ixigo, Yatra.com, Booking.com) and hospitality brands (Oyo, Lalit, Taj, Hyatt) also fall in this bucket, despite the fact that the actual purchase/transaction - unlike in the case of eateries - takes place online.

Second, we wonder whether pure play e-commerce brands (Flipkart, Amazon, Myntra, Paytm, eBay, Alibaba Group), with little to gain - directly, at least - from a customer's vaccination, could still offer discounts/cashbacks if she/he were to upload her vaccine certificate while placing an order.

We spoke to a few industry experts to get their views on which categories could incentivise the vaccination certificate.

Here’s what they have to say.

Edited excerpts:

Krishna Iyer, executive vice president, MullenLowe Lintas Group

As a student, I have visited places that offer a discount on entry fees with a flash of a college identity card. Travel is incentivised for children and senior citizens. A Yellow Fever vaccination certificate is a must to enter Africa. An authentic vaccination certificate opening doors to places that attract crowds, with an incentive thrown in, is very novel.

Potentially, such an offer can come from malls, cinema halls, eateries, bus services, railways, airlines, etc.
Krishna Iyer
Krishna Iyer
Krishna Iyer

Potentially, such an offer can come from malls, cinema halls, eateries, bus services, railways, airlines, etc. Not only will it put the people, who are nervous to move out, at ease, but also convince the hesitant fence-hitters, who are currently not sure about taking the jab!

Categories like health and life insurance will find particular utility in such discounts, as a vaccinated customer falls in a lower risk category for them.
Saurabh Mishra

Saurabh Mishra, brand strategist

Businesses are looking at every possible way to reignite consumer interest. And the COVID vaccination certificate seems another opportunity to create some excitement, just like the discounts based on the percentage score of students passing their board exams.

Saurabh Mishra
Saurabh Mishra

Categories like health and life insurance will find particular utility in such discounts, as a vaccinated customer falls in a lower risk category for them.

Vishal Nicholas, EVP and head - planning and strategy, dentsumcgarrybowen India

Of course, promoting vaccination is in the interest of the restaurants, but what is not so easily apparent behind these initiatives are the solid business reasons. Restaurants have been feeling the pinch of food aggregator commissions. Post-pandemic, these commissions are only hurting them more. So, it is an effort to lure the customers into the restaurants and away from the food apps.

Vishal Nicholas
Vishal Nicholas
Perhaps, the vaccine certificate will become a passport first before it becomes a discount coupon.
Vishal Nicholas

Categories that face similar pressures from either the pandemic or aggregators like hotels, airlines and movie halls, could experiment with ‘vaccine marketing’. What really remains to be seen is whether the consumers will be swayed by it, as so far it is just the 45-plus demographic that is eligible for discounts, whereas the aforementioned categories are heavily under-45-driven. Perhaps, the vaccine certificate will become a passport first before it becomes a discount coupon.

Vinay Kanchan, author, brand storyteller, innovation catalyst

There is a limit when it comes to brands exploiting a situation for their personal gains. While I understand that the business has been tough and everybody is trying any means to ramp up their sales figures and revenues, I think if you are a brand, and a respected on especially, your behaviour must always stay within how you define your ethical parameters.

Vinay Kanchan
Vinay Kanchan

Unless you are in the space of, say, healthcare, because then it’s a natural fit, it is very opportunistic of brands to ride on vaccination. However, that said, this is nothing new in India. I remember that once there was a brand that offered discounts based on ICSC certificates – get a discount if you scored above this percentage. We are used to such offers.

But these are really sad and sensitive times. Brands should leave this to people with knowledge and the brands in the healthcare space.

I’d suggest that the brands avoid the pandemic situation as much as possible for promotional purpose. In the advertising space, we, anyway, have been swept with Corona fever – every brand’s product is Corona-proof. These times should be treated with more seriousness than just a rush for numbers.

I’d suggest that the brands avoid the pandemic situation as much as possible for promotional purpose.
Vinay Kanchan

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