The pandemic campaign from the Ad Council gets a boost from Watson AI
IBM Watson's AI is powering and optimizing the campaign
This year, the Ad Council is spearheading a sweeping education campaign to sway hesitant Americans to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Using the message “It’s Up To You,” the more successful the campaign is, the shorter it will run. But campaign partners are ready for the long haul. IBM Watson committed its AI creative ad capabilities to the campaign, as well as ad inventory from The Weather Channel properties, which it owns. Apple, another partner, is informing Americans through the App Store, Apple Music and elsewhere.
Although the number of Americans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 is approaching 10%, there are many more waiting in line, especially those outside the designated priority groups during phased distribution – parameters that vary from state to state.
But as access to vaccines increases around the globe, the roll-out will hit the hesitancy-and-promotion phase. Idaho might already be there. Israel, an early leader in vaccinations, has been mulling over incentives to get more shots in arms.
Meeting the challenge with smart messaging
Messaging for the education campaign will be distributed through traditional and digital channels, including social. The stakes have never been higher to reach the right audience at the right time. This requires intelligence, and the intelligence is split into two key areas – market research and campaign data.
For the research, the Ad Council teamed up with Ipsos Public Affairs, determining that, as of February, 40% of the American public have not made a firm decision to get their shots when the vaccine becomes available to them.
Michelle Hillman, Chief Campaign Development Officer at the Ad Council, explained: “While many Americans have already started the vaccination process, we recognize that there is currently a lack of confidence and credible resources for people to go to, leading to hesitation, fear, misinformation and complacency.”
She added, “The data [from the research] illustrates the need for a bespoke effort reaching communities of color who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, and where there is considerable distrust in the government and medical community and high hesitancy toward the vaccines.”
According to Hillman, Black and Hispanic Americans among the undecided population are less confident that they have the information needed to make their decision to get vaccinated. This makes campaign performance critical, in order to direct undecided Americans to the information they seek.
Using data to predict and optimize performance
The IBM Watson Advertising Accelerator uses past campaign performance to continually optimize the distribution of creative assets, as well as informing what combination of assets is shown to what audience. The technology doesn’t use third-party cookies and is context-based, making the campaign an important case study for the “cookie-less” future.
“When we learned that 40% of Americans still haven’t made up their mind, we knew that AI technology could help the educational message resonate,” said Randi Stipes, CMO of Watson Advertising and Weather; Developer Marketing at IBM. “The IBM Watson Advertising Accelerator is predictive and makes sense of the data input in order to serve relevant content.”
Stipes added that with a campaign of this size, there’s no time to draft every creative element from scratch.
The data used by the Advertising Accelerator also includes one other campaign it helped the Ad Council execute. Last summer, the two teamed up to launch “Love Has No Labels.”
“During the height of the racial injustice protests [in summer 2020], the Ad Council successfully leveraged Accelerator to educate and build awareness of their ‘Love Has No Labels’ campaign, which compiled over 81 ad variations,” Stipes explained.
According to Stipes, the Accelerator helped the campaign generate a 113% increase in its own performance from the beginning to the end of the campaign, while driving a 69% increase in conversations, or actions on the campaign’s site.
“It’s a big tent,” Hellman said, of the many components of the campaign and its partners. “But when we come together and use the power of technology for good, we have the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives.”
Reaching the “movable middle”
The Ad Council’s research found four key areas of concern: Safety of the vaccines, the speed at which the vaccines were developed, distrust in the U.S. government and conspiracy theories.
“All audiences have questions that have not been answered and they all want them to be addressed,” said Hillman. “Whether or not people are able to get vaccinated in five days or five months, we know a majority of Americans with hesitation over the vaccines want their questions answered now.”
We spoke with Chris Paquette, founder and CEO of DeepIntent, and formerly a data scientist at Memorial Sloane-Kettering Cancer Center, to gain a perspective from his experience in pharmaceutical marketing. (He’s been tracking this effort, as well as those by the DHHS.)
Paquette credits the Ad Council with assembling a large group of roughly 400 partners, including tech vendors like Adobe, Salesforce, LinkedIn, Twitter and Twitch, among others.
The key goal of such an effort, as he sees it, is getting what all parties are calling the “moveable middle” off the fence and on the side of getting vaccinated.
“The strategy is similar to other sorts of marketing,” said Paquette. “The people who are on the fence are moved by how empathetically the campaign can connect with individuals. To really have empathetic marketing, you need to know their concerns. And the only way to do that at scale is to reach individual pockets of the population using tools that allow you to do that.”
He also disagrees with those who say that the campaign is jumping the gun because supply is still lacking. “At the end of the day it’s about the ‘last mile,’ getting shots in arms. A personalized, localized approach will play an important role in the mobilization effort.”