How Walgreens overcomes 'consumer complacency' during flu-shot season

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Brand: Flu vaccine

Owner: Walgreens

Campaign: Annual

Agencies/Partners: WPP, including MediaCom, Grey, and Burson-Marsteller

Duration: Annually, September-March 

Flu season is often the only shot people receive on an annual basis. With so many misconceptions and so many companies offering flu shots, pharmacies need to find ways to get people in the door and vaccinated. 

Like many pharmacies, Walgreens offers walk-in flu shots each year. To get people to choose Walgreens over other stores, the U.S.' second-largest pharmacy chain begins a marketing campaign around September that lasts until flu season ends. It encompasses TV and radio spots, digital ads, and instore signage. 

See also: Merck kicks off lung-cancer campaign

"Given that each flu season is different, it's important to be flexible and tailor our efforts to whatever may happen in any given year," says Crystal Fouchard, director of pharmacy marketing at Walgreens. 

In the 2015-16 flu season, more than 145 million doses were distributed by manufacturers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - but only 41% of American adults received a vaccine. The CDC's Healthy People 2020 initiative aims to reach 70% coverage by 2020, but that figure has stalled near 40% for the past seven years. 

Influenza is more dangerous to the very old and very young and those with compromised immune systems, so Walgreens targets these groups specifically as well as a general audience. 

"While certain efforts may target audiences such as moms or seniors, they also reflect the diversity of our customer base and the need to reach a range of people who may be interested in getting a flu shot," Fouchard says. 

Each year, myths also swirl about the vaccine, usually that the shot will make you sick, or doesn't match predicted flu strains that year. Walgreens doesn't plan to directly address those myths in its campaign, but Fouchard says it will "handle it reactively as needed through PR and social media" and encourage customers to talk to their pharmacists. 

The other challenge is convincing people who don't think they need a vaccine. The CDC recommends every year that everyone aged over six months receive a flu shot, not just vulnerable groups. 

See also: AstraZeneca pulls Take it From a Fish campaign

"One challenge is overcoming consumer complacency that can follow a less-than-severe season, which is why we reinforce in our messaging that every flu season is different and unpredictable," Fouchard explains. "There's an old saying in the industry that ‘if you've seen one flu season, you've seen one flu season'." 

To distinguish itself from other pharmacies, Walgreens' adds a philanthropic element to attract more people. The company partners with the UN Foundation on Get a Shot. Give a Shot., which donates a vaccine to  a child in a developing country for every flu shot sold in the U.S. 

"Get a Shot. Give a Shot. is integral to our campaign," Fouchard says. "It gives people another reason to come to Walgreens for a flu shot, because they're not just doing good for themselves and their families, they're also doing good for others."

This story first appeared in PRWeek. 

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