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The ads encouraging COVID-19 vaccinations have been working

The Ad Council and its CEO Lisa Sherman broke all its usual ways of doing business to convince people to get the shot(s).

The ads encouraging COVID-19 vaccinations have been working

Almost 80 years ago, the advertising industry created a nonprofit devoted to social good, which has promoted the polio vaccine, forest fire prevention (hello, Smokey Bear), and more. But COVID-19 presented the Ad Council its biggest challenge yet: a raging virus, with swaths of Americans hesitant to be vaccinated. Typically, the council taps a single agency to lead a campaign. This time, Lisa Sherman, who has led the nonprofit since 2014 as its president and CEO, brought together an unprecedented number of agencies, brands, and media partners, raising $52 million, plus $500 million in ad space.

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Each partner was free to tailor pitches to specific audiences, enabling the coalition to move quickly. “We had to get comfortable taking our hands off the reins,” says Sherman. Although the campaign has an overarching theme of “It’s Up to You,” there’s flexibility for agencies to make it their own, and the effort has helped drive significant change. From February to April, the number of Black Americans who had received at least one shot had grown from 14% to 47%. Vaccination rates among Latinos rose from 13% to 48%, and among conservatives, from 22% to 44%.

Read more about Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business 2021

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity.

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