Nuance matters more than ever, as persuasion effects vary greatly for different audiences
Civis Analytics, a technology company that powers effective, data-driven audience campaigns, today released new research identifying the most persuasive COVID-19 vaccine messaging, the latest in a series of Civis studies on the topic.
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The study of 5,110 unvaccinated American adults showed that the most persuasive pro-vaccination messages focus on protecting children from COVID-19 and on the financial cost of contracting the virus. The research also showed increasing variation in persuasion effects among demographic groups compared to prior studies, further emphasizing that a “one-size-fits-all” message will not work.
Civis ran the message test using its Creative Focus tool, which leverages a randomized controlled trial framework — widely considered the gold standard in social science — to determine which messages are persuasive and which may backfire. Key findings include:
As the COVID-19 situation has changed, so too have the most persuasive messages. In the latest research, messages highlighting experiences off-limits to unvaccinated individuals (such as concerts or international travel) or emphasizing personal choice were much less persuasive than in April 2021, when research conducted with Made to Save found those messages to be highly impactful across most demographic subgroups.
Persuasion effects are more variable by demographic group than ever before. Unlike previous research, which found only a few instances of variation across groups, the latest findings reinforce the importance of considering the audience makeup when developing a campaign. For example:
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- Highlighting experiences off-limits to unvaccinated individuals is still an effective message for white Americans or those earning more than $100k a year.
- Messages focused on patriotism are only effective among Latino/a Americans.
- Emphasizing personal choice is persuasive for Americans that identify as “very conservative,” people without a high school diploma, and people who make between $50K and $100K a year.
- One constant theme across Civis’s research is that focusing on vaccine safety and highlighting personal health risks of COVID-19 are ineffective, and in some cases may backfire. This is particularly notable as campaigns across the country continue to tout the vaccine’s safety.
- The worst-performing messages are also variable across audiences, backfiring more strongly with certain subgroups:
- Using scary statistics around hospitalization backfires more strongly with Latino/a groups.
- Focusing on the safety of the vaccine backfires more strongly with highly educated, higher-income Americans.
- A nurse recounting patients begging for the vaccine on their deathbeds backfired particularly strongly with white Americans and lower-income individuals.
“What’s buzzy isn’t always what’s persuasive,” said Crystal Son, MPH, Director of Healthcare Analytics at Civis. “Stunts like the viral fake funeral home ad, or the numerous stories about people on their deathbeds who regret being unvaccinated, aren’t resonating with the people who need convincing. Many campaigns out there are not only ineffective with unvaccinated Americans, but may backfire.”
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