PRHK Viewpoints: Learnings from Hong Kong’s COVID-19 vaccination incentive campaigns

Is a lucky draw the best strategy to encourage Covid-19 vaccination uptake? From the results to date, we can see that the lucky draw programmes announced in Hong Kong have contributed positively to an interim increase in vaccination registrations. But before the first lucky draws were launched, who was confident that the sentiment would be positive? I can imagine the intense discussions between PR teams and senior management on the pros and cons of these campaigns, and potential for brand risk, prior to their launch. 

Potential PR risk made brands hesitant to voice support for the vaccination programme

Since Hong Kong launched its Covid-19 vaccination programme in February, the participation rate has been influenced by the divisive political sentiment, lack of confidence towards government and safety concerns surrounding the vaccines, as revealed by many surveys. Except for communications directly from medical experts, pro-vaccination messaging from politicians and business leaders has not been widely supported and is often regarded as advocating for the government rather than for the vaccination programme itself. From demanding to strongly encouraging, some employers have been criticised by the public for not prioritising or respecting the health concerns of their employees. Together with the daily news cycle about the side effects of vaccinations, the overall sentiment around getting the shot not only drove hesitation of vaccination decisions, but also hesitation towards brands or organisations stepping up to voice out their support for the vaccination programme.

The turning point began when Airport Authority Hong Kong announced a giveaway of 60,000 free air tickets and Ng Teng Fong Charitable Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Sino Group, along with Chinese Estates launched a citywide lucky draw offering the Hong Kong dream, an apartment, as a grand prize in a lottery for fully vaccinated permanent residents along with cash prizes for all residents. Thanks to the power of these incentives, both the news cycle and people’s attentions were refocused towards this new and self-initiated strategy offered by the business sector. Rather than headlines and private messaging discussing the rare side effects, attention was focused on the attractiveness of the incentives and quotes from business leaders saying why they support and trust the need for a quick and city-wide uptake of getting vaccinated. It reveals that many Hong Kongers are actually not resistant to vaccination, but focused on the purpose – why, when and what triggers them to ‘take a risk’ for something in return.

The most successful incentive campaigns have the lowest barriers to entry

For the business sector, vaccination is highly relevant to their organisational purpose. Reaching a high overall vaccination rate, and ultimately herd immunity in the local community, will bring business back to normal – trade, sales, tourism and cross-border opportunities. While understanding their agenda, the most well received incentive campaigns did not put their communication focus on business recovery, instead, they positioned the lucky draws as a “for good” and “for the community” project that shares a common goal with the wider community.

Smart business operators strategise the incentive campaign with generous prizes that people desire, a simple registration process and welcoming eligibility that isn’t bundled with their business. Examples of this include Sino Group’s apartment, Henderson Land’s offering of 60 taels of 999 pure gold and Goodman Group’s incentive of a Tesla Model 3 as grand prizes to fully-vaccinated residents over 18 years old. These are attractive prizes and do not required participants to purchase or enjoy their services. When people compare the incentives on offer from lucky draw organisers, these are the brands who have earned the most positive feedback and public sentiment so far.

In this regard, it is the brands that avoided being seen as opportunists that have gained more positive sentiment in the wider community. Some campaigns require participants to spend at specific shopping malls or purchase products to a certain amount in order to redeem an award entry. These are considered as less attractive campaigns because the core purpose becomes “selling”, and the prerequisite requirements dilute the primary objective of encouraging Hong Kong residents to get vaccinated. 

As well as eye-catching incentives, more can be done by brands to address the communities’ fundamental needs

The lucky draw and giveaway campaigns are providing a good incentive for Hong Kong people to speed up their decision making on getting vaccinated. However, not everyone can afford to risk taking a sick day or the extra costs of a health check to reduce their concerns prior to deciding to vaccinate. Identifying these issue, some NGOs are working closely with the business sectors to offer support to the underprivileged. New World Development, as an example, has partnered with three NGOs to offers HK$1,000 vaccination subsidies for people who need support so that they can take part in the vaccination programme.

Access to a health risk assessment has been identified as key to offering peace of mind to those that have concerns. To fill this gap, the Hospital Authority announced the provision of COVID-19 vaccination consultations for general outpatients starting from 25 June. Some employers are also providing their employees with a subsidy or allowance for this.

While lucky draw conversations target the “wait and see” segment, these alternative offerings directly supporting people who encounter difficulties in participating in the vaccination programme due to concerns over lost income or their health. We hope to see more NGO initiatives to further support people with these concerns.

Brands should remain careful when building the next steps of incentive campaigns to avoid backlash

Following multiple announcements on lucky draws, giveaways and support schemes in Hong Kong, media and the community are now focused on how well they are executed. Are the terms and conditions fair? Is the registration process smooth? Is the messaging supportive of the community and mindful of people’s concerns?

Here are some tips to consider for brands and organisations hosting incentive campaigns:

  • Focus on the purpose: Brands should connect activations back to the key objective, that of driving up the vaccination rate in Hong Kong. Any over promotion of services and products has the potential to be seen as an opportunist and therefore lose people’s hearts.

  • Be transparent: The exciting grand prizes are under the spotlights. Only very few people can be the winners at the end of the day, so disappointments are unavoidable. Brands need to spend effort on communicating the fairness of the process and apply a high level of transparency along with clear guidelines to avoid potential criticism for being “closed door”.

  • Be mindful of privacy concerns: Data collection and verification of vaccination proof risks leaking personal information. Organisers are recommended to involve data experts to ensure information provided by participants is protected during the process, and destroyed following the campaign - rather than used for future marketing purposes.

Last but not least, while knowing the advantages of increasing the vaccination rate in Hong Kong, communicators should always demonstrate an understanding of vaccination being a personal decision based on careful health and risk assessment and respect every individual’s decision about their own health and body.

This piece was written by Jessica Man, director & head of business development, Sinclair and a member ofPRHKPRHK Viewpoints is an article series contributed by members of PRHK, Hong Kong’s PR & communications association.