Former presidents, professional athletes, and country singers have made up some of the 1,124 “influencers” who’ve lent their voices to public service announcements in the past months, asking their fans and followers to get vaccinated. Collectively, these Ad Council-developed PSAs have reached 50 million people across the U.S.
As the U.S. lags behind other developed countries in the COVID-19 vaccine uptake, even as it started its campaign earlier and more speedily, the Ad Council’s “It’s Up To You” campaign has been using “trusted messengers” to influence the hesitant and give them the facts they need in order to feel confident in receiving the shot. Now, the Ad Council has recruited possibly the world’s most trusted messenger. Pope Francis, joined by six cardinals and archbishops from different countries in North, Central, and South America, is featured in a three-minute PSA—for the organization’s first-ever global campaign.
“To the world’s billion-plus Catholics, the Pope is a highly trusted messenger, and he holds unparalleled influence,” says Lisa Sherman, president and CEO of the Ad Council, in an email. The group’s February research found that, among people wanting to “wait and see” before getting the shot, 54% of Catholics, and of Hispanic Americans, would be more likely to get it if the Pope were to give a PSA. “The Pope enthusiastically agreed to participate,” she says.
In the ad, the Pope and the other Catholic leaders urge followers to get vaccinated, stressing the shot’s safety and effectiveness, and proven ability to save lives. They also emphasize that getting the shot is an “act of love” for the community. “Thanks to God’s grace and to the work of many, we now have vaccines to protect us from COVID-19,” Pope Francis says in the video. “I pray to God that each one of us can make his or her own small gesture of love. No matter how small, love is always grand.”
The messaging from all seven leaders centers around that same principle. They call on viewers to “spread hope to all, without exception,” to think about themselves as “members of the great human family,” and say it’s a “moral responsibility” to get vaccinated. That specific language, Sherman says, was not scripted, rather chosen by the leaders themselves. And, research from June supports that thematic choice; 67% of Hispanic Catholics, and 58% of white Catholics, agreed that getting vaccinated is a way to live out the religious principle of “loving your neighbors.” (That was much higher compared to, say, white evangelicals, at 43%.)
The campaign is the first in the Ad Council’s 79-year history that is “designed for and distributed to a global audience,” Sherman says. The PSA will be distributed worldwide via media partners, including Facebook, Google and YouTube, Telemundo, WarnerMedia, and the Upward Christian Dating app from Match Group. Though the scope is worldwide, the primary focus will be on countries across the Americas, where rates of fully vaccinated individuals are low; the rate in Peru, for instance, is 22%, and 9.9% in Honduras. It’s also a way to make inroads to the Latino community in the U.S., among which roughly 43% have been fully vaccinated.
The Ad Council has been running ongoing campaigns targeted at several religions. On August 25, it will host a multi-faith event in collaboration with the Eva Longoria Foundation, consisting of panels with faith leaders, to be broadcasted on Telemundo, NBC News, and YouTube. The Pope’s PSA will also be shown at the event; and during the whole week, there will be pop-up vaccination sites in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and Oregon—states with particularly low uptake rates among the Hispanic community.