Children’s hospital coalition assigns vaccine homework to parents

Who: The Children’s Health Coalition, with Cossette for creative and strategy, Merchant Studios Inc. for production (directed by Jason Jeffrey), Saints, The Vanity, and Vapor for post-production, and OMD for media.

What: “Parent Homework,” a new campaign encouraging parents to “do their homework” when it comes to Covid vaccinations for kids. The answers to the homework are provided by the coalition of eight top children’s hospitals in Ontario, including SickKids.

When & Where: The campaign started in late January, and will be supported by paid media for a month on TV, online (digital, social and search) and through each hospital’s owned channels.

Why: Covid vaccinations for kids five to 11 were approved late last fall, and getting as many kids vaccinated as possible is considered essential in terms of increased communal immunity against the virus.

But a significant percentage of parents have questions and concerns about getting their kids vaccinated. The CHC was formed earlier in the pandemic as a joint effort to address all Covid issues relating to children. As approval for childhood vaccinations neared, they started to consider communications strategies.

SickKids had already created a consultation service to answer questions from parents, said Roy Gruia, director, brand strategy and communications at SickKids Foundation.

“The questions and the dialogue that came out of that… fuelled the need to go out there with a campaign from the medical experts that took this impartial view on frequently asked questions from hesitant parents,” he said.

Impartial is a key word here. CHC did consider a more prescriptive campaign telling parents to get their kids vaccinated, but realized that a heavy-handed approach would not work with parents who have a lot of questions.

“It was a very conscious decision to take a neutral approach, to never say ‘Go get vaccinated,’ but to invite parents to make an informed decision for themselves,” said Gruia.

How many parents? According to Gruia, CHC believes that about 50% of parents wanted the shot for their children ASAP, and about 20% were probably never going to do it. They wanted to reach the 30% of parents who are hesitant, providing good information that would guide them toward vaccinating their children.

“The consult service [at SickKids], really provided the insights for this campaign, what are the things that parents are actually asking about,” said Gruia. “We used a lot of those questions to fuel how we structured the website and the content that we put out there.”

How: There are two key elements here: A TV ad, and an information-rich website at featuring common questions and important facts about the vaccines. To keep the homework theme going, parents can even “talk to a tutor.” And while there is no “get your kid vaccinated” message, there is a prominent link to book an appointment.

The ad shows two sports fans talking about a game they’re enjoying on TV. One opens an oven to get their nachos, but his son has beat him to it. “Funny, I don’t remember seeing you do your homework today,” says the son with a disapproving glare. The friend is sent away, and the father sits down to do his homework as a voiceover directs viewers to

The tongue-in-cheek homework conceit is a gentle way into a conversation about the topic with parents, said Gruia. “It’s coming at this in a way that is a little bit more playful and more approachable, as a way to broach the subject with parents, given its sensitivity and volatility.”

Passing the test: They tried the concept with focus groups, and found that the approach allowed them to break down walls and encourage people to seek information, “versus saying ‘This is what you need to do. This is the right decision. We’ve made that decision for you already,'” said Gruia.

David Brown