Retailers get a jump on flu shot marketing earlier than ever
With a double wave of influenza and coronavirus looming, retailers are pushing out flu vaccine marketing earlier than ever this year in an effort to avoid crowds in the fall. On Thursday, Walgreens debuted a 30-second spot touting itself as a key weapon in the battle against the flu. Typically, the drugstore chain rolls out influenza-related marketing in September, a spokeswoman says. CVS also released messaging around its flu shot offerings this week; special promotions around the vaccine began Aug. 18, when few consumers are usually even thinking about cooler weather illnesses.
“We launched our flu shot campaign earlier than previous years to educate on the importance of reducing community spread of flu and the burden on the healthcare system during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Patrick McLean, chief marketing officer of Walgreens. “We wanted to reinforce that by getting your flu shot at Walgreens, you’re actively helping to protect those you care about and your community."
Walgreens’ new commercial is part of its “Defend Your Crew Against the Flu” campaign, and showcases the red post-shot bandages as “badges of honor” for consumers who want to take care of their family and friends by taking care of themselves. The spot was directed by Malik Sayeed and created by WPP, Walgreens’ agency. All shooting was done remotely, a spokeswoman says. The company is also leaving messages for its pharmaceutical customers letting them know the flu shot is now available.
By starting marketing earlier, retailers can avoid a rush later in the season and also spread out their vaccine supply. Experts also expect this year to be competitive between brands.
"All the different retail pharmacies are offering flu shots now," says Lydia Green, a former pharmaceutical copywriter and founder of RxBalance, a nonprofit that addresses misinformation in medicine. She noted that a few years ago, the idea of going to a drugstore for a flu shot was "very novel" but now it's become more competitive. "Because of COVID, there's a desire on the part of everyone to get more people vaccinated for the flu," Green says.
In previous years, stores have ramped up promotions and marketing in late October. Last year, there were between 39 million and 56 million flu illnesses, and 24,000 to 62,000 deaths in the U.S., according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has been tweeting from its CDC Flu account regularly in recent weeks as it encourages consumers to protect against the virus that actually has a vaccine. The department recommends that people be vaccinated before the end of October.
CVS recently commissioned a survey that found that 54 percent of consumers plan to get a flu shot earlier this year than last year, the retailer recently reported. CVS recently made its flu shots available at its nearly 10,000 pharmacies and 1,100 MinuteClinics, which are inside both Target and CVS locations. CVS is also running a promotion of $5 off $20 shopping passes for customers who receive a flu vaccination before Oct. 31; Target customers will receive specific Target coupons.