To celebrate the holidays, the fitness influencer Cory Boling did mountain climbers in his apartment in a pair of camouflage swim trunks. His twin brother, Calvin, did squats while holding a kitchen stool.
The duo—muscular, cheerful, constantly shirtless—were two of the most eager participants in a holiday-season Instagram campaign run by the Oklahoma City County Health Department with the help of the influencer marketing agency XOMAD. Their posts were #ads, as well as invitations to stay home for Christmas, wear a mask, stop the spread, keep it tight.
For the health department, this was an experiment—a test of whether social-media influencers could reach Oklahoma residents with paid messages, steering them toward behaviors that benefit public health. Now the department has doubled its budget for the real campaign: the one to get Oklahoma residents vaccinated against COVID-19. It is a relatively new and promising approach to vaccination drives, but also one whose effectiveness, and potential downsides, remain unknown.
Americans’ willingness to receive a COVID-19 vaccine has been rising steadily since last fall, but a large proportion—a bit less than one-third of those surveyed, according to the most recent polls—is still hesitant. Lisa Sherman, the president of the Ad Council, describes the task of persuading these holdouts to get their shots as “literally the most significant public-education effort we’ve ever undertaken” (and the Ad Council has undertaken some pretty significant public-education efforts in the past). To make things even harder, public-health communicators no longer have the benefit of public figures such as Elvis Presley, who once gave a lift to a national immunization campaign with a single photograph of a rolled-up sleeve. These days, even our most mass-appeal celebrities are not nearly as appealing. Each of them has done something to annoy some chunk of the population, and I’m even talking about Bruce Springsteen right now, and I’m even talking about Hilary Duff.