Productizing the Flu for Adults

 We need to start rebranding the experience of getting a flu shot – particularly for adults. The data show that kids are increasingly getting vaccinated for the flu year over year but adults are just kind of ‘meh’.  Data also shows that there has been a significant increase year-over-year in overall childhood immunization rates.

On the surface, that might suggest that parents care more about their children than they care about themselves. As an expecting father, I can see how that could play a role, but I think there’s more going on here. Let’s consider the following:

The flu vaccine is like a product. It is a thing that is offered on the market to satisfy a want or need. You can almost hear the pitch; ‘Sick of puking? Try Flu Vaccine.’ You can almost see it in a little box on the shelves in the vitamin aisle at the local pharmacy.  You can almost picture the commercials:

  • Dad is sick, hugging toilet. Mom enters with Flu Vaccine. Dad is outside doing lawn work. Mom winks at dad. ‘Thanks Flu Vaccine’.
  • Woman sneezes during date. Her eyes are red. She makes a scene. Waiter serves her Flu Vaccine. Woman is better and now making great conversation and laughing. ‘Thanks Flu Vaccine’.

You’re almost tempted to buy this thing. It must be flying off the shelf. Except it’s not. Why?

Products have a source of responsibility. Who is responsible for making the flu vaccine? If you want to travel from point A to point B, you might buy a car. You know the car maker that makes the car, and you’re confident their product will do the job. You know exactly how well the product performed (and responsible the maker is) when the car makes it from point A to point B. If the car makes it, you think highly of those responsible for manufacturing it. You may even tell others about it. If the car doesn’t make it to B, you don’t like the product and you want to tell anyone with an ear about it, including the manufacturer. With the flu vaccine, point A is not being sick. And point B is still not being sick after a certain period of time. If you get sick in between point A and point B, do you think highly about the product? Do you tell others about it? Who is responsible for manufacturing the product?  Who could you tell?

Products have a defined brand. What is the flu vaccine brand? What does the word ‘vaccine’ even mean? Instead, let’s use the word ‘immunization’. Well, what does that mean? Ok, then let’s use the word ‘shot’ instead. Ouch. How about ‘nasal spray’? Nasty. The brand for the flu shot is that it is nebulously not enjoyable.

Products satisfy a want or need. What needs or wants are flu vaccines satisfying? It’s been proven that the flu vaccine is the single most effective way to prevent the flu. And yet, every year, people get sick. With or without the flu shot, people get sick. People are not just opposed to the flu – they are opposed to getting sick in general. There’s no vaccine for avoiding general sickness.

So why then are children getting vaccinated more according to schedule than adults? Is it as simple as parents caring for their children? The truth is, the paradigm for childhood vaccinations is completely different than it is for adults. The product picture is a lot clearer- the flu vaccine is a communicated social norm. Mothers and fathers alike talk amongst themselves about all of the immunizations that children need. Childhood shots and visits are the brand and the community is the medium by which the brand makes its mark. As children grow out of the infant stages, they get immunized every year before school starts. It is a pre-requisite to being able to go to school. So that satisfies the want and/or need.

We all know there are a million reasons why people do not universally adopt generally accepted best practices for health. My point is that in the healthcare world, we tend to focus on the same things over and over again when trying to influence behavior and increase self-efficacy. We use fear appeals and scare people into shots. We share the same old information in the same old formats. We do these things, but what we want is for flu prevention to go viral. If you want to go viral, you have to be infectious. So when we’re creating our flu prevention campaigns in our respective organizations, here are a few thoughts:

  • Change the name. Call the flu vaccine something else. Make it irreverent even. Call it a Flu Prick. Give it a slogan – Give the prick a chance. Yeah – maybe that’s a little aggressive, but irreverence can be compelling when it’s all in good fun. Whatever the name, have fun with it and maybe people will catch on.
  • Make it a social occasion and call it something interesting. If you’re administering the vaccine at the workplace, call it the ‘Fluvie Character Challenge’. Dress up as a famous movie character, get the flu shot, and take a picture. Put it on social media. If people don’t buy into the effectiveness of the flu or its importance to their own lives, maybe they’ll buy into the social norm.
  • Talk about altruism. People love causes. Getting the flu vaccine is like doing one thing to keep the community healthy. Do your part. We’ve seen this type of altruistic endeavor catch fire when combined with the bullets above as recently as this past year. Think Ice Bucket Challenge. People did an extremely uncomfortable thing because it was branded well, it was a social occasion – with personality, it was gameful and fun, and it was altruistic.

We need to start rebranding the experience of getting the flu vaccine. Maybe this blog is just the push, prod or prick that will do the trick.  Spray it, don’t spread it. You get the idea.

Eliza’s flu solution takes into consideration all of the hesitation, skepticism, pre-conceived ideas, and then tailors a message to increase the number of people who get their flu shot.  By targeting and tailoring our outreach, Eliza successfully improves vaccinations for clients. To learn more contact us at or 1.844.343.1441.



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