Digital Audio Helps Spread Positive Word on COVID-19 Vaccines

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Cover image for  article: Digital Audio Helps Spread Positive Word on COVID-19 Vaccines

Get shots in arms. Nationwide, health care providers are racing to vaccinate as many Americans as possible against COVID-19 and making great strides, but vaccine hesitancy remains a stubborn obstacle. Within some communities, including people of color, there is skepticism over the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine and even deep-rooted mistrust of the health care system. To sway Americans, health care officials are activating digital audio to reach engaged listeners with personalized, targeted messaging. That's music to health officials' ears.

In February, a Pandora survey revealed high levels of COVID-19 vaccine mistrust among its listeners, particularly among listeners who identify as Black or Latinx. To promote vaccinations, Anna Clement, Pandora's director of healthcare, advised marketers to speak to the heart of listeners' needs and worries, rather than simply running generic spots.

"The concerns that a Black millennial mom has about getting the COVID vaccine are very different from the concerns a 55-year-old male with heart disease may have, and it's imperative that messaging reflect that so more people make the decision to get vaccinated," Clement said.

"We have to be able to reestablish trust and build that rapport to engage with communities of color, particularly marginalized communities who may feel that their interests are not prioritizing in terms of their health or treatment," Dr. Garth Walker, an emergency room physician and deputy director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said on a recent Pandora for Brands webinar to help healthcare systems design messaging to promote COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

With thoughtful and targeted messages, healthcare advertisers can help break down some of these barriers. Pandora and its sister companies SiriusXM and SoundCloud reach 45 percent of Americans each month, with audiences that span racial, ethnic and demographic groups. With troves of proprietary data, Pandora places targeted ads to reach specific audiences by content, mood or location, even down to ZIP Code.

"Data-driven, streaming audio platforms like Pandora can offer personalized, targeted messaging solutions to address vaccine-related fears, so healthcare partners can build trust, engagement and momentum within the communities they serve," Clement said.

To date, more than 59 million Americans are fully vaccination against COVID-19, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control data, and states are rapidly opening eligibility to all adults. Yet some Americans have said they're reluctant to get the vaccine, including people of color and white men who identify as Republican. Healthcare providers want to convince these people to get their shots -- and quickly.

What to Say to Vaccine Hesitant Americans?

When it comes to creative, Dr. Walker suggested healthcare advertisers share factual information on the vaccine and tips on disease prevention. He recommended using data specific to BIPOC communities, such as research from the National Medical Association, a group that represents Black physicians, which independently evaluated clinical trials for bias and representation, and endorsed the vaccine for Black and Hispanic individuals. He said ads could feature medical providers from individual communities or well-known community leaders, and even highlight that Black women helped develop the vaccine.

"The most effective messaging, at least during the pandemic, entails having a trusted partner and start from a safe space of non-judgement and respecting science. Usually, the trusted partner with a medical provider can help alleviate concerns as well make individuals more receptive to information," Dr. Walker said.

Some of the mistrust for the COVID-19 vaccine is influenced by past experiences that occurred long before this current pandemic, Dr. Walker noted. In some communities, he said people of color have a history of difficulty accessing high-quality health care and vaccines. These experiences have left some deep scars, forcing today's public health campaigns to work double-time to establish relationships and promote the current COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

By partnering with a digital audio service, including Pandora, healthcare systems improve their chances to break through. "We have an ideal platform to help our healthcare advertisers educate, reach and resonate with millions of people who have very different concerns and hesitancies surrounding the vaccine," Clement said.

Consider Voice and Tone

When creating audio campaigns, who is voicing the spots and how they're speaking is extremely important, noted Roger Gehrmann, executive creative director of Pandora's in-house creative agency, Studio Resonate.

"Audio is particularly good at generating trust," he said. "If you have the right voice, a voice that is a trusted voice and a recognized voice, saying something literally in someone's ear, you can't get a more intimate platform that the ability to speak into someone's ear, you can create a sense of trust that is very different than creating a sense of trust on a screen, on TV or a sense of trust in an ad space on a website, like banner ad."

Done properly, Gehrmann said digital audio campaigns are intimate and highly effective. Pandora research shows listeners respond best to conversational and empathetic tones, rather than shouting or fearmongering. They enjoy narrative stories, and sharing useful, actionable information. When possible, the voice talent should sound like a member of the intended audience's community, Gehrmann said. For instance, to reach Latinx users, he suggested mixing in Spanish or creating Spanish-language spots.

To assist healthcare advertisers, Studio Resonate can plan, produce and deploy customized campaigns backed by Pandora's rich data and analytics. Pandora's dynamic audio capabilities allow it to change messaging within a national campaign, allowing ads to be targeted by location or demographics. including allowing ads to be targeted by demographics. making ads more relevant and personalized.

For instance, Gehrmann explained: "Older generations, Baby Boomer and older, are looking for more direct information on when and where they can get vaccinations, while younger generations, Generation X and more digital-natives, are looking for more information from a trust source online."

Pandora is the lead audio partner on the Ad Council's COVID-19 messaging campaigns, and Gehrmann said that's given his team insights on what works well and how listeners respond.

To promote inclusivity, Pandora is rethinking its diversity in its own work. To better reflect the composition of its audience, which includes 40 percent listeners of color, Studio Resonate is committed to working with more people of color for its voice work, producing, editing and directing, Gehrmann said. The company aims to cast voices of color 50 percent of the time.

As vaccination rates are steadily improving among BIPOC communities and other vaccine hesitant groups, Dr. Walker said healthcare systems need to keep educating Americans about the COVID-19 vaccine and how they can help reduce transmission.

"This pandemic has touched everyone in communities, the businessmen, teachers, everyone's grandparents," Dr. Walker said. "In order for us to fight this virus, we have to have everyone involved, everybody wearing a mask, everybody physically distancing, everybody washing their hands, and trying to make sure people understand that their actions help save lives."

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