Ananya Pathak & Shreyas Kulkarni
Points of View

If COVID were to get its own 'Do boond zindagi ke' pro-vaccine ad, what should it look like?

This is the opportune moment for a mass scale ad campaign to get Indians to overcome their vaccine hesitancy. Creative experts on what a 'COVID vaccine ad' should look like.

Two decades ago, Amitabh Bachchan came onto our TV screens and reprimanded parents for dragging their feet on vaccinating their kids against polio. More recently, in 2015, he implored people to give their infants the Hepatitis 'teeka'. "Hepatitis se hum darrengey nahi... ladhengey," he said.

Cut to the present. The second wave of the Coronavirus is sweeping the country. Now seems like the opportune moment for the government and public health authorities to launch a high octane, mass scale, pan-India advertising campaign to help people overcome their vaccine hesitancy.

What should such an ad look like? Should it echo the Pulse Polio campaign (2002) and tell people they are letting their loved ones down by not showing up at the vaccine centres? Who can forget Bachchan scolding people with "Chheh! Polio ke booth pe itne kum log? Dhikkar hai hum par!" before begging them to show up on specific dates?

Or should it echo the Balbir Pasha AIDS awareness campaign (2002) that deconstructed the science behind the way HIV spreads? Balbir, a guy who visits the local red light areas, may have sex only with Manjula, but is still at risk because she, in turn, has multiple sexual partners, one of the ads explained.

Or, perhaps, the campaign could resemble the 'Jaago Re' campaign (Tata Tea, 2007) that had nothing to do with public health, of course, but equated voting with social awakening and stirred people into collective action, nevertheless?

Alternatively, it could focus on busting myths a la Shabana Azmi's 'AIDS chooney se nahi failta' message from the 1990s, maybe?

We spoke to some creative minds and asked them what a high decibel campaign to get people to take the COVID vaccine should look like.

Should it have real doctors and frontliners in it? Politicians? Or popular celebrities?

Edited excerpts:

Piyush Pandey, chief creative officer, worldwide, Ogilvy

Piyush Pandey
Piyush Pandey

This is a very serious problem, and there are various ways of communicating it. Different geographies have different issues

There will be problems of hesitation and fear. Problem of nothing will happen to me.

I don’t think I can answer this in the form of a slogan as this isn’t a one-slogan answer. Slogans are only a gist of what you say, they don’t make a campaign.

I think it has to be addressed in pockets. Enough information is being spread by governments of different nations, states and media. Everyone is urging people to recognise the necessity of taking a vaccine.

Right now, the need is to address the problem, to persuade people...

The answers are not that simple. You simply can’t get a celebrity to do it. If you look at the polio campaign, it’s an ongoing 10-15-year program. It’s not an advertising gimmick, it’s an effort of health organisations, governments, individuals, and media. It’s a collective effort.

I’d be very happy if you (one person) can talk to 10 people and persuade them. It’s good enough. The more people do this, more people will be covered.

The people who get vaccinated will be sharing it with 10 other people, “Listen, nothing happened. One day, I felt tired. One day, I felt pain… it’s easy.” That’s the movement we need.

Nandita Chalam, former executive creative director and senior vice president, Wunderman Thompson (she is currently an advertising lecturer at Xavier Institute of Communications, and also a creative consultant)

Nandita Chalam
Nandita Chalam

I don't think it's a good idea to use a celebrity for a COVID vaccine campaign. The reason is that many celebrities who have been used to advertise best practices to avoid COVID in the past - like Amitabh Bachchan, Sachin Tendulkar, and Akshay Kumar - have all tested positive later, thus creating embarrassment for the government.

The only kind of celebrity I'd recommend would be an Indian equivalent of Doctor Anthony Fauci (of the United States), if we can find one.

Some people are not taking the vaccine for the two reasons below:

1. They fear it may cause severe side effects, even death, and god knows what other complications in the long run. They don't want to be the guinea pigs.

2. They see no point in taking the vaccine as they will still have to wear masks, and maintain social distancing. Also, the vaccine may not work against the new (COVID) variants.

We must address these two reasons head on in the campaign. And, who better than a reassuring real life doctor to do this?

I would show real people expressing real doubts and fears, and the doctor calmly putting their fears to rest. I feel this will work better than simply showing people getting happily vaccinated, which does nothing to convince the real doubters.

Rajiv Rao, director, Nirvana Films (former NCD, Ogilvy)

Rajiv Rao
Rajiv Rao

We’re talking to people who have doubts, but what is happening is a WhatsApp information overload. It has led to a lot of doubts over the vaccine, with some saying that I will wait for a good vaccine… this and that… We need to tell them don’t be smart because you are not a doctor. So, don’t try to be one.

“Khud ko doctor mat samajhiye, vaccine le jiye.” (Don’t be your own doctor. Get the vaccination today.)

Any doctor will recommend you to get the vaccine.

As far as using celebrities (like Bachchan) for the campaign is concerned, absolutely. In fact, we will need not one, but 20 celebrities. There are so many actors who are suffering from COVID. If they come in and say, “I’ve taken the vaccine, what are you waiting for?” it will give confidence to people. We need every possible strategy to get people to take the vaccine.

It should be a 360-degree campaign. It should definitely be on the phone (WhatsApp, etc.) because that’s what people listen to these days. People go online for everything these days and have become WebMD doctors. The idea is to say, don’t be your own doctor, and that should be clear.

Vishal Sagar, senior creative director, dentsu Webchutney

Vishal Sagar
Vishal Sagar

Corona brought the world to a standstill. It locked us in our houses and took our freedom away. In an ever-shrinking world, it brought back distance. We took a hit emotionally, financially and mentally. Even worse, we lost our loved ones.

With vaccination, there is a ray of hope. But we need to keep a few things in mind. First of all, urgency. Getting a jab should be our first priority. Second, it is for everyone. This time, there is no immunity without unity.

The campaign should address the aforementioned points and be malleable enough to accommodate other concerns that may rise in the future. Since it is going to be a pan-India campaign, we can look at something simple, sharp and easy to translate. My key contenders would be – Teeka lagao, Corona bhagao; Corona ka ant, teeka turant (playing up the urgency); and One for Imm(unity).

The use of celebrities will be key as it will help us reach the masses. I think it will be really cool to show them getting the jab. For once, people will get to see the celebrities using the product for real. The use of local celebrities will also be critical. It will make the campaign even more believable if we use celebrities who have already had COVID themselves.

The campaign needs to assure people of safety, highlight the importance of the vaccine, and build urgency so that people take it and take it now.

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