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In an effort to encourage people to be vaccinated against influenza, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has retained the services of a marketing company to produce stories without attribution and post them on various news websites.

They hired Weber Shandwick in September 2020, according to documents that were received through a Freedom of Information Act request, in order to design ad placements that look to be news pieces for the purpose of convincing parents of young children and elderly people to get flu vaccines. This action was carried out in accordance with a contract for 32 million dollars that was held by Weber Shandwick and the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD) of the CDC.

Producing Articles Without Branding for Distribution in the Media

The advertising agency will establish several media methods to disseminate the CDC/NCIRD’s message on flu vaccinations, including authoring unbranded pieces for media distribution, as part of the larger campaign to boost NCIRD’s immunization program. This will be done as part of the larger campaign to strengthen the NCIRD’s overall immunization program.

According to the documents that were retrieved, the existing contract has the potential to be extended for an additional $55.2 million in payment. This campaign is committed to the implementation of “strategic health communication to provide a full range of communication support to change attitudes and behaviors to prevent diseases of interest to NCIRD.”

“Native Advertising” Techniques and Methods

In recent years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has begun implementing “native advertising” strategies. These strategies involve the training and/or payment of trusted, non-governmental actors to promote vetted ideas in conversation, community spaces, and social media in a manner that does not appear to the targeted individual to be linked to official government campaigns. According to the records obtained through the FOIA, Weber Shandwick worked with another public relations firm called Brandpoint to write the stories that were associated with flu vaccines. Brandpoint is an industry leader in the production of “branded, consumer-facing” publications, sometimes known as advertisements that have the appearance of being news stories.

Utilizing Content Provided by Third Parties with Credibility

People are familiar with and trust the websites and radio stations that are posting articles and announcements advocating immunization against influenza. These articles and announcements are broadcast in English and Spanish. According to the papers, the print advertisements may, but are not required to, contain a tiny label that identifies them as a “paid post” but does not specify who paid for them. However, this label is not always present. Through the use of these pieces, marketers are able to reach consumers on the local news and media websites they visit on a regular basis while simultaneously leveraging their own content and the credibility of third-party media firms.

The current vaccination campaign for the flu being conducted by the CDC aims to vaccinate every individual in the United States aged 6 months and older.

Previous campaign techniques were mostly centered on fear. The internal marketing team at the CDC pushes media celebrities and public health professionals to “state concern and alarm (and predict dire outcomes)” for the upcoming flu season. They also encourage them to depict each flu season in ways that would “motivate behavior.”

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