The needle and the damage done: should brands offer vaccine incentives?
In a bid to increase Australia’s vaccination rates, the Federal Government has given businesses the green light to offer and advertise vaccine incentives to the public.
At first glance, it’s an obvious boon for brands. What better way to attract new customers, generate positive press and help fight COVID-19 than to encourage vaccination through rewards?
In the US, where the Biden administration endorsed a similar scheme, businesses were quick to participate. Krispy Kreme offered free donuts, Anheuser-Busch gave away beer and the NFL handed out 50 tickets to Super Bowl LVI.
Here in Australia, too, businesses are starting to take advantage of the new rules. Melbourne Airport, for instance, launched a competition to give away $10,000 in cash to spend on travel each month to participants who get the jab. Within just 10 minutes of going live, the initiative had already received 100 applications from eager entrants.
Clearly, there are benefits. But just because brands can get involved, it doesn’t mean they should. The risks and ramifications should be carefully considered before you dive in.
First things first, you’ll need to know the rules or risk punishment. Take, for instance, the case of Port Melbourne publican Tom Streater whose pub had agreed to offer up free pints to anyone who could prove they had been vaccinated before being swiftly ordered to stop by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
At the time, the rules stated that businesses could not offer alcohol, tobacco or medicines as incentives for the jab; something that Streater had overlooked. And while the TGA has since backflipped on its alcohol ruling (subject to a new range of conditions), other brands may not be so lucky – especially if they’ve spent considerable time and money advertising their incentive.
Figuring out how to verify a customers vaccination status poses yet another practical challenge. Requiring customers to show their digital vaccine certificate – which is automatically made available online to anyone who’s had both jabs – is an obvious solution for bricks-and-mortar businesses. But the process is less clear for brands that operate online, and any transfer of data over the internet is bound to cause privacy concerns.
Allaying privacy fears
It’s no secret that data security is a key concern for today’s consumers. Over the past several years, we’ve witnessed a spate of high profile incidents, from the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal to breaches affecting the big four banks. For brands that need to collect data in order to verify a customer’s vaccination status, providing privacy assurances could be crucial – which may mean a fight on two fronts.
Firstly, some consumers will want reassurance that the government's data stores are secure. And while it insists that they are, people may have doubts given the problems that plagued its COVIDSafe contact tracing app. Secondly, customers will want to know how the business they’re dealing with collects, handles and stores their data.
Authenticity is key
Before rolling out ads and incentives, brands must think hard about where they stand and be willing to act with conviction when that standing is questioned. Failure to do so could lead to embarrassing backtracks and permanent reputational damage – a fate that’s already befallen Stomping Ground Brewery Co.
The popular venue in Melbourne launched ‘Shot for a Pot’, an initiative designed to reward patrons with a free beer at its Great Australasian Beer festival upon showing proof of vaccination. But just hours after it was announced on social media, the promotion was cancelled amidst criticism from vocal vaccine skeptics, alienating those who were initially in favour of the initiative.
Brands must also be wary of ‘vaccine washing’: spouting pro-vaccination incentives while making little or no effort to practice what they preach. Any incentives perceived as hollow attempts to hop aboard the vaccination bandwagon will be called out quickly by the public. At the same time, though, brands shouldn’t push too hard in the opposite direction. Coming across as coercive is likely to elicit similarly negative responses.
Weighing the risks
By offering incentives for vaccination, brands can make a meaningful contribution towards ending lockdowns and bring in new business at the same time. If they get it right.
Any decision to get involved requires careful deliberation, a solid understanding of what to say and how to say it, and whether or not you should speak in the first place. Even then, success isn’t guaranteed.