Dr Nick Coatsworth featuring in an ad for the Department of Health (Image: Department of Health)

The federal government has spent just $32,000 on digital ads that specifically promote vaccines out of the $41 million earmarked for COVID-19 advertising campaigns according to a digital marketing analytics company.

These findings come against the backdrop of a stunted vaccine rollout, muddled messaging about eligibility and rising vaccine hesitancy, which has doubled to 16% of Australians since mid-2020

Digital intelligence firm Pathmatics has released data about the government’s digital advertising spend since April last year based on its own insights. The company signs people up to use an app to record what advertisements they’re shown online. Data is then extrapolated to provide insight into how advertisers are spending their money and who their messages are reaching.

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What Pathmatics found was that, of the $6 million the government spent on various digital ad campaigns in that time, only half were COVID-19 campaigns, most of which were front-loaded during the pandemic.

The vast majority of that COVID spend — $2.6 million — went on one campaign: a series of banner ads declaring “Stay informed & safe during COVID-19”, which direct viewers to the Department of Health’s official resources.

Other big campaigns were for Smartraveller’s information for overseas travel ($145,000) and advice specifically for travelling to New Zealand ($38,000).

The lion’s share of the spend happened earlier in the year. Between April and June 2020 the federal government spent $2.6 million on advertising — a critical period when there wasn’t much known about COVID-19 and advice was fast changing. In the year since then, it’s spent a total of $224,000. 

Pathmatics determined that just $32,000 of that has been spent on advertising the safety and efficacy of vaccines. Various advertisements on Facebook targeted English and Mandarin speakers, as well as campaigns specific to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and people with a disability. 

A spokesperson from the Department of Health disputed these figures, but declined to answer questions about digital advertising spend.

“There has been a significant investment across the digital-specific advertising across a range of formats, including video, social media, digital display, digital audio and search advertising,” they said in an emailed statement. 

The federal government has been repeatedly criticised for its lacklustre campaign against vaccine hesitancy. 

Just last week, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) made renewed calls for more to be done. 

“GPs on the frontline delivering these vaccines see that more action is needed,” RACGP president Karen Price said.

“This country urgently needs a comprehensive, well-targeted, nationwide campaign to boost vaccine confidence in the community.”

What do you think? Has the government done enough to persuade people that vaccines are safe? Write to letters@crikey.com.au, and don’t forget to include your full name to be considered for publication.

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Peter Fray
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