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Why Pfizer gave Mischief a shot at inspiring vaccine confidence

Even before Pfizer was confident its Covid-19 vaccine was effective, the pharmaceutical brand knew it would take a colossal effort to convince sceptical US citizens to get the injection. Collaborating with US healthcare alliance and BioNTech, it didn't want your typical science-heavy ad, prescribing scientific facts to people who find them hard to swallow. So it gave Mischief @ No Fixed Address the opportunity to try something a little different.

The world cheered and sighed with relief at the end of last year, as news broke that Pfizer–BioNTech's vaccine had passed safety and efficacy tests. But, while it was a historic win for science, the war against Covid-19 is far from over.

Conspiracy theories and misinformation about the coronavirus vaccine are as transmissible as the catastrophic new variant, making it hard for scientists, pharmaceutical companies, and healthcare bodies alike to get the world vaccinated.

Conscious of the hurdles it still has to overcome, Pfizer and BioNTech brought together an alliance of US healthcare associations in the hope of inspiring confidence among vaccine-sceptic Americans.

“This is how the leadership at Pfizer operates,” explains Dini von Mueffling, whose comms agency had worked with the brand previously. “Pfizer was the company that got all big companies working together, saying there's one mission here - which is vaccination.”

Von Mueffling recalls that Pfizer first reached out back in August, months before its vaccine was deemed effective. “It wanted to work on a vaccine confidence campaign - regardless of whose vaccine it was, it just wanted to help promote vaccination,” she details. “It knew there would be concerns around the speed with which the vaccine was created, and that there's always been some vaccine hesitancy - no doubt there would be more.”

But as von Mueffling explains, Pfizer wasn't after your traditional pharma ad. It didn't want a campaign that emphasized the benefits getting vaccinated could have on someone's health - it wanted something out of the box, and so she suggested the cheeky new kid on the block, Mischief @ No Fixed Address. You may remember it from such ads as “send noods” and “cockblocker” - the agency is fixed on delivering its namesake.

“I thought, if Dini is bringing this to us, they're not looking for your typical ad based on symptoms, results, and side effects,” explains Greg Hahn, co-founder and chief creative officer of Mischief, who formed the agency this summer, after a famed career at BBDO.

“So that was a sign that they were looking for something different,” he continues. “And so we started thinking about the situation. There's so much noise out there, that we thought just adding facts and figures into that pile isn't going to change anything. All the information people need is out there and comes from very reliable sources. So we thought the most compelling way was to attack this problem through emotion.”

And so, a world away from science books, an idea came to Hahn as he was sat watching: “just your typical movie, obviously shot before the pandemic, where seeing people in crowds or standing next to each other at subways stations just feels so uncomfortable now.”

He says he started thinking about all the things we took for granted, that Covid-19 took away. "We've all given up so much, mostly little moments that we don't even think about that. But when you remind people of those, it's really profound," he says. “Wouldn't it be nice to have that all back? Well, science has made that possible.”

And so, working alongside Catch&Release, the team started scouring the internet in the pursuit of real, interpersonal moments that people had posted. Moments that covid has taken away.

“The campaign is all found footage. The idea was not to do something that felt inauthentic or overly produced,” he explains. “We wanted it to feel like this is you, your family, your neighbours, people, we've all seen these videos on people's personal social networks. We wanted something for people to relate to.”

A spokesperson from Pfizer shares: "We want to convey the message that vaccination can help us get back to normal. We hope that the powerful images of a long embrace, a playdate with grandpa, and joyful news will pull at people’s heartstrings and inspire them to get vaccinated. The PSAs show real people, real emotions, and the real moments we are all eager to enjoy again."

Beyond the intimate, interpersonal moments, what makes the campaign hard-hitting, is the reversed use of a question and answer format.

In one ad, a pair of delighted parents hear their daughter has ‘a bun in the oven’. As the family celebrate the news: ‘A. Because some people you just want to meet in person,’ pops up on the screen, followed by Q. Why will you get vaccinated?’

Hahn says the idea to use the question and answer format just happened intuitively. “I wanted to create intrigue when that line came up, out of context,” he explains. “It's a line that's provocative and doesn't really make complete sense until you put the frame around it, which is the question. Then the question becomes universal.”

Considering the topic of vaccination is so sensitive, the team was aware that they had to get it right. However, Hahn explains they didn't need to rely on pages of insights to get the right approach. “This is one of the few times in the world where we're all having the same shared experience,” Hahn explains. “We did lots of investigating across social, but we're all living this.”

“It's a campaign that gets bigger the more it's seen,” says Hahn on the media plan. Rolled out across the collective’s social channels, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube the PSAs will air on TV nationally in the US, aided by a national OOH media donation from Quan Media Group amounting to around $1.4m.

“The campaign is not just Pfizer and BioNTech's campaign, but it's also that of five other health care associations,” von Mueffling explains on the comms opportunity such a colossal alliance provides.

While Hahn admits that the campaign is unlikely to convince people 180 degrees on its own, the aim to is to get people to seek out more information. The spots are anchored in the message: ‘science can make it possible. Only you can make it real’ which points viewers in the direction of ‘Science Possible’ website, which contains trusted, third-party information, offering people who might be sceptical more detailed information about Covid-19.

“We want people to open their minds and go, I should look into this. And, for the people who are behind it, this is to get them more psyched about it,” he says.

Whether we can expect another series of PSA's, Hahn hopes not. “The goal would be that there wouldn't need to be round two.”