To overcome worldwide resistance to vaccines, the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) enlisted the marketing advice of the International Food and Beverage Alliance, whose 11 members comprise the world’s most successful marketers, among them The Coca Cola Company, Pepsico and McDonalds. WHO liked what it heard and, in a major report released last fall, decided to accept the food and beverage industry’s recommendations: forget facts, sell vaccines the way Coca-Cola is sold, on the basis of emotion.
The wide-ranging WHO report, entitled “Report of the SAGE Working Group on Vaccine Hesitancy,” stemmed from a November 2011 meeting of the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization, where “SAGE noted with concern the impact of reluctance to accept immunization on the uptake of vaccines reported from both developed and developing countries. These reports led SAGE to request the establishment of a working group on vaccine hesitancy.”
Three years later, the WHO working group report is out. Among its deliberations, “the Working Group explored private-sector approaches to shaping behaviour, as well as strategies used by other organizations to change behaviour. The Working Group heard from the International Food and Beverage Alliance (IFBA) about marketing strategies used by that industry. … Key industry messages to the Working Group included the following:”
- All that really matters is the power of the story.
- Consumers care about benefits, not supporting facts.
- Reason leads to conclusions, while emotion leads to action (i.e. change comes from feelings, not facts).
- One big idea needs to drive the entire communications strategy. Only one or two messages can be communicated – the rest must be sacrificed.
The World Health Organization Working Group recommended that this fact-free, emotion-laden Coca-Cola style marketing strategy be urged on the international “pro-vaccination lobbies,” including the panoply of the international pro-vaccination bureaucracy that WHO coordinates: UNICEF, WHO’s chief vaccine partner at the United Nations; other international organizations such as the World Bank; member states and their regional and country immunization advisory committees.
Aided by this ‘Keep It Simple, Stupid’ strategy, WHO is hopeful that the marketing wizardry that works for the food and beverage giants will help the pro-vaccination movement overcome the public’s reluctance to vaccinate. As its report optimistically stated: “Some of the messages that particularly resonated with the Working Group included focusing on the benefits of immunization and drawing on the emotional values around child health.” Coca Cola’s slogan this year is “Make it happy.” We await the slogans to come from the pro-vaccination movement.