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We need to reach people where they are and hesitancy is a concern that people have regarding the vaccine: Ad Council

Michelle Hillman, Ad Council Chief Campaign Development Officer joins the Yahoo Finance Live panel to discuss the Ad Council's vaccine marketing and branding campaign.

Video Transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: Vice President Mike Pence this morning going before the cameras to get his shot of the coronavirus vaccine. Certainly he will be the first in a long line of a lot of lawmakers, including former presidents as well, who have said that they will, in fact, get the vaccine before cameras to be able to instill confidence in safety concerns or address safety concerns.

With the first rollout of that vaccine already underway, the next step is going to be that part, convincing the public to get inoculated. With skepticism around safety rampant, the Ad Council launching an unprecedented advertising campaign to be able to educate Americans about the safety of this vaccine.

Let's bring in Michelle Hillman. She is Ad Council's Chief Campaign Development Officer. Michelle, it's great to talk to you.

This is certainly an unprecedented effort. I think a lot of Americans probably remember past educational efforts, whether that was with HIV or sort of the say no to drugs type of campaign, but what specifically are you looking at right now when you talk about the $50 million, the scale with which you need to approach this to reach every community in the US?

MICHELLE HILLMAN: Absolutely. Thanks for having me today. I think, as you said, you know, we've been in the socials-good space for a long time. We've worked on a lot of campaigns, including work that we've done around COVID since the crisis started in March, but this is literally the biggest in our lifetime as far as size, scale, scope, and urgency.

You know, we are building a campaign that is going to be a big tent. We're going to have many different campaigns targeted at many different audiences with so many messages and so many messengers that we really need to reach people where they are. And we know that, you know, hesitancy is a real concern that people are having, and we're really working to dig into that and to really make sure that we can provide empowered information from the right messengers to help people make choices for themselves and to get the vaccine and help us get back to life.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, Michelle, when you say the right messengers, I think that's pretty interesting because, you know, maybe some older watchers of the show might look back to the polio vaccine and they might remember Elvis getting it. But for, you know, younger people, seeing all these people get shots on live television is a little bit striking here. How much money is going towards maybe attracting some of those high-profile names to do that, and what kind of campaign pushes are there to really drive adoption here to go get Americans vaccinated?

MICHELLE HILLMAN: Absolutely. The world's changed a lot since Elvis was, you know, a one-and-done influencer [INAUDIBLE] to everyone across the country from, you know, one media channel, as you know.

We're doing our research right now, really trying to understand for all audiences, really, who are those influencers? And in some cases it might be celebrities. In some cases, it might be health-care professionals. In some cases it might be your faith-based leaders. We know that, you know, on the ground, people's doctors, their primary-care physicians, their faith leaders that are already helping them around issues with hope and inspiration and education are really going to be trusted voices.

And so this is going to be one of those campaigns that's going to be, we like to say, you know, an air game and a ground game. We're going to bring the best influencers from all of those categories to really meet people where they are, understanding that, you know, everyone isn't going to respond to someone like Elvis. We're going to need a lot of Elvises to make this work for people.

AKIKO FUJITA: Yeah, Michelle, can you speak to the complexity of the campaign, especially in an age where so many people are getting their news, for example, from social media, so much misinformation that's out there, and then really looking at targeting communities of color where skepticism is especially high given the history?

MICHELLE HILLMAN: Absolutely. This is not a one size fits all campaign. I think you're exactly right, and we are, you know, super plugged into the fact that especially communities of color have been overimpacted by COVID itself. And also when you look at the research, their hesitancy is higher for really important historical reasons that you've pointed out.

So, you know, for us, we're really trying to dig in and understand through our research all those really specific levers, help people overcome their hesitancy. We want to move them from hesitancy to confidence, really acknowledging that it's OK. It's OK to have all of these questions and concerns. We want to provide information so they can really understand and make the right empowered choices for their families. And, you know, hopefully that will lead them down a path where they want to take the vaccine, and that helps us all get to the other side to have the moments that, you know, we're all missing, the connection with our friends and our family and back to work and school and to our churches and all the places that are important to us.

AKIKO FUJITA: And Michelle, to the point you made earlier, you've already been pushing forward educational campaigns throughout COVID, particularly around mask wearing. What have you found that has really worked in what is sort of this unprecedented public-health crisis? What kind of messaging do you find has been especially effective, and which platforms do you think works the most?

MICHELLE HILLMAN: Yeah, as you've said, I mean, we've done, just on COVID alone, since March we've had 20 different campaigns with 200 assets and over $400 million of donated media. And I think what we've learned is that the different communities that we reach out to, they want to hear from people in their communities, right? So the work that we've done, you know, Mask Up America for the Black community, we know that they want to hear from influencers like Viola Davis and Simone Biles and, you know, people that are on the front lines in their own communities and that really the messenger is key here. So the message is important, but the messenger, you know, probably saves the day in this.

ZACK GUZMAN: You know, not to just completely, you know, throw out the idea of ads working here, but we've heard some politicians talking about maybe paying Americans to get the vaccine too, maybe more of a direct incentive. What would you say to that idea and maybe what you'll be judging as successful in terms of some of these campaigns in the data once we get to the other side of how many Americans actually get the vaccine?

MICHELLE HILLMAN: I think as far as success goes, I mean, it really is-- you know, we keep hearing the stats. You know, people-- we need to get between, you know, 70% and the low 80% of people-- of Americans to get this vaccine so that we can get herd immunity and we can try to get back to the life that, you know, we all want to live.

I think in our experience, we see a combination of advertising and public education with other on-the-ground activation. So whether it's, you know, what we've seen through many years of working on seat belts, drunk driving, looking at the combination of legislation, on-the-ground enforcement with the advertising-- I think, you know, the more the merrier.

So I don't know if it's the right idea to pay people or not pay people, but I think you'll see a lot of combinations of, you know, hard work on the ground, a lot of innovative activations in concert with the messaging, and that's going to be kind of like the magic formula to get people to really pay attention, get the information they need, and hopefully make some good choices for themselves and their family.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, that's the important part here, but excited to see what comes of all that. Ad Council chief campaign development officer Michelle Hillman, appreciate you taking the time to join us.

MICHELLE HILLMAN: Thanks so much for having me.