Elmo Wasted

Elmo Wasted


First, a comment on style. What a waste! A TV ad to talk to young children and parents about the importance of vaccinations and the ad is nothing but talking heads. Young children are physically incapable of sitting still and listening to droning dialogue. Their parents are distracted and uninterested. Surely the Surgeon General could create an ad that is a little captivating for children and their parents.

Second, a comment on content.  The ad recommends an action and offers a reward for taking that action.  A persuasive PSA, like any persuasive ad, proposes a reward for taking that action that is immediate, emotional, and certain.  This message says, “Get all your vaccinations on time because they help keep you healthy.” It is factually accurate, but the message offers a delayed, rational, and rational reward for the recommended action. The message should communicate at the level of feelings, turning the delayed into the immediate, the rational into the emotional, and the uncertain into the certain.

Vaccinations are transforming and should feel that way. It takes only a few seconds but changes someone who is vulnerable to, for example, chicken pox, into someone who is invulnerable to chicken pox. Vaccinations are like Peter Parker being bitten by that spider and becoming Spiderman. Rather than promising a shot that should help keep you healthy, why not tell kids that getting your vaccinations on time can make you feel like a superhero who no longer has to worry about measles, mumps, chicken pox, polio, etc. Kids would love to feel invulnerable to many dangerous diseases and parents would love to help their kids feel that way. The feeling is immediate, emotional, and certain.

Third, the tone of the ad. This criticism may seem subtle, but the ad’s tone is its biggest flaw. Its tone makes it counterproductive.

Imagine an ad recommending to drivers that they stop at red lights. Such an ad would give the impression that stopping red lights is a decision for each driver to make. Maybe you’ll stop. Maybe you won’t. We recommend you stop. Stopping at red lights should not be a decision for each driver to make. There should be no option.  If drivers decide not to stop at red lights, they endanger themselves, and everybody else, and the community does not function as it should.

Getting vaccinations should be expected, not an option. If parents delay or avoid vaccinating their children, they endanger their children and others, and the community does not function as it should.

The ad should assume the children get all their vaccines on time. The ad should talk about how good the children and their parents will feel. The ad should not treat having children vaccinated as a parental decision but rather as fundamental, expected parental behavior. Anything less than full vaccination is a disservice to the children and the community.

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