Case Study: Vaccine Hesitancy Decoded Through Emotional Understanding at Scale

The Alabama Department of Public Health knew they had a tall mountain to climb in connecting with and convincing minority populations that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and necessary to get life back to normal. Their first call was to Bruno Event Team, a Birmingham-based company that handles logistics and advertising for major events from the PGA Tour to the SEC to HBCUs.

Cygnal was brought in to craft the messaging and targeting strategy through survey research. Using Emotive Analysis, an emotions-by-AI-at-scale software, Cygnal ascertained how exactly vaccine-hesitant populations felt about the vaccine and what it would take to “get on their level” and address their concerns.

One of the key findings was that the “vaccine evokes feelings of fear and anger, with the sub-emotions of nervousness, stress, anxiety, worry, fear of change, and distrust. Fear of side effects is a big concern. What respondents need to feel before they’ll take the vaccine is trust and safety.”

We were able to segment messaging to various target populations – African-Americans, Hispanics, and Tribal Nationals, and rural whites – based on the different emotions they felt toward the pandemic as a whole and the vaccine specifically.

Our study found distinct differences amongst the population groups, including different motivations that would drive someone from being vaccine-hesitant to getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

A real-time, text-based focus group was conducted afterward to dive deeper and test specific advertisements and messages. Respondents’ own words were then put through the Emotive Analysis software to understand what role emotions played in their responses. Participants’ chosen messages evoked feelings of trust driven by safety, and anger-driven by criticism in almost equal measure. The trust feeling stems from the message starting to cut into some of the worries about safety with responses like: “Made me feel like there is hope”, “a little more comfortable”, “It made me feel better I want at least a fighting chance for better days,” and “that it is a viable option in helping combat the virus.”

“Convincing people who are leery of getting the COVID-19 vaccine is a tall order, especially among minority communities that distrust the government’s past handling of sensitive medical situations. With Emotive Analysis, we were able to move beyond the ‘what’ and understand the ‘why’ among hesitant populations, which transformed our messaging effort to be more emotionally connective and appealing.”

– Gene Hallman, CEO, Bruno Event Team & ADPH Contract Lead