‘Message fatigue’: SA COVID vaccine campaign falls short

A nearly $500k state government advertising campaign encouraging South Australians to get a fourth COVID vaccine dose failed to meet objectives due to “message fatigue, hesitancy and general misinformation”, an official evaluation has found.

Jun 01, 2023, updated Jun 01, 2023
One of the video social media ads rolled out as part of SA Health's four COVID vaccine dose campaign. Photo: SA Health/Facebook

One of the video social media ads rolled out as part of SA Health's four COVID vaccine dose campaign. Photo: SA Health/Facebook

The Department of Health and Wellbeing’s “COVID Vaccine 4th dose” campaign ran ads on TV, print, radio, online, social media and outdoor displays from August 21 to September 25 last year.

Costing $484,068, the advertising blitz was intended to raise awareness that over-30s are eligible for a fourth COVID vaccine following an expansion in eligibility.

The campaign also warned that immunity to COVID-19 fades over time and over-50s are strongly recommended to receive a fourth dose.

But according to a campaign evaluation recently published by the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC), the campaign “underachieved on its objectives”.

The report found the advertising “translated minimally to attitudinal or behaviour change” despite pre- and post-campaign research indicating a “positive” response.

“There are many challenges relating COVID-19 vaccination communication, including message fatigue, hesitancy and general misinformation,” the evaluation report states.

“At the time post-campaign research was undertaken, the level of COVID-19 in the community as well as the associated community concern had reduced significantly.”

The report cited a post-campaign survey where 20 per cent of respondents said they “would not get a fourth dose because they caught COVID-19 after having two or three doses”.

This was up from 13 per cent in the pre-campaign survey, according to the report.

“Additionally, 31 per cent of those surveyed said they would not get the fourth dose because they had side effects after getting previous doses, which was up from 20 per cent in pre-campaign research,” the report said.

The sample size of the survey was 400 people, an SA Health spokesperson said.

The survey also found that 43 per cent of respondents had seen an ad from the campaign, of which 55 per cent said they were “impacted in some way”.

The evaluation cited this as evidence of the campaign’s “effective reach and multi-dimensional impact”.

“The campaign made people realise that it is important to keep up with vaccinations (38 per cent) and drove some people to recommend to family or friends (16 per cent) or book an appointment for the fourth dose (9 per cent).

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“Overall, the creative and media strategy was effective at communicating the message and impacting target audiences, however, due to external factors outlined above, this translated minimally to attitudinal or behaviour change.

“Despite this, due to the effectiveness of communicating the message and the impact, the creative will be considered for use in future and could be used to promote other COVID safe behaviours.”

The campaign slightly underspent its proposed budget of $500,000.

Seventy per cent of eligible South Australians have received a COVID vaccine booster, according to SA Health’s most recent weekly COVID update published on Friday.

The data does not include a breakdown of who has received a third or fourth dose.

The fourth dose advertising campaign evaluation is contained within the April edition of the Government Communications Advisory Committee report – a monthly DPC publication disclosing evaluations and approvals for government advertising campaigns.

In the 2021/22 financial year, the Marshall and Malinauskas governments spent $41.2m on advertising – the highest amount since record-keeping began 13 years ago.

SA Health is also spending $1.7m on an advertising campaign to attract health professionals from interstate and overseas.

The “For Work. For Life.” campaign will feature advertisements in medical journals and social media spruiking the work and lifestyle benefits of South Australia to allied health workers from interstate, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

The campaign is approved to run from March 3 to August 27 but is expected to continue till the end of the year and expand to Ireland, Canada and the United States.

An evaluation of a smaller, $376,311 interstate and international recruitment campaign by SA Health found it “overachieved” its marketing objectives by generating more than 30,000 clicks through to the campaign web page.

There were also a further 960 clicks through to the “apply now” page.

SA Health also spent $904,910 on advertising the government’s new $3.2b Women’s and Children’s Hospital build from September 27 to October 22.

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