Off Brand

Krispy Kreme Found a Way to Make Vaccine FOMO Even Worse

Brands rush in to help end the pandemic with vaccine doughnuts and other marketing stunts

Skeptical about the Covid-19 vaccine? Or too lazy to get jabbed even though you’re eligible? Well perhaps you can be persuaded by… free doughnuts. This is apparently the thinking behind a new promotion from Krispy Kreme: Present your vaccination card at its U.S. locations, the Wall Street Journal reports, and you’ll get a glazed doughnut on the house.

The Journal suggests this may mark a new phase in brands’ attempts to find the right pandemic-era tone. The time for caution and concern is fading into a mixture of optimism and cajolery — get your shots, consumers, so we can all get back to shopping and dining and gathering in malls and theaters. And since this sort of persuasion-based promotion involves public health (doughnuts notwithstanding), it comes with a certain halo effect.

It also comes with risks. It’s possible that anti-vax types, known for making a ruckus around their in-the-minority viewpoint, could try to stoke a backlash. And given that the chain is offering the free doughnut promotion every day through the end of the year, some critics have already questioned its larger health message.

For many people, seeing somebody else get a free treat for doing something you’re desperate to do yourself is annoying at best.

But even among vaccine proponents, this kind of promotion may come across as a lot more opportunistic than legitimately helpful right now. In fact, for many people, seeing somebody else get a free treat for doing something you’re desperate to do yourself is annoying at best.

After all, demand for vaccination is still outstripping supply, so reward-driven cajolery isn’t particularly necessary (yet). If anything, brands are stoking vaccine FOMO. For example, a shopping rewards app called Drop is offering points to anyone who tags their vaccination selfie with a particular Drop-centric tag. That sounds more like getting in on a trend than actually influencing behavior. (Even vaccination selfies have been criticized as more boastful than persuasive.)

At this phase of the vaccine effort, the more genuinely laudable brand contributions involve helping those who qualify for vaccination but for one reason or another have challenges in actually getting their shots. For example, Uber and Lyft are offering free rides to those who need them. Giving employees time off to get their shots is also a legit help — and for the record, Krispy Kreme is doing that. And more broadly, big chains like CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart are making huge efforts to distribute vaccines, surely engendering fresh if not unprecedented affection for big-box operations.

This kind of effort will have more impact if it starts to feel like a norm rather than a stunt.

That said, there is a looming challenge that does very much involve persuasion: convincing those vaccine skeptics to do their part in overcoming a deadly global virus. The good news is that more and more Americans say they intend to get their shots. And we may be closer than you think to a scenario where there are actually more vaccine shots available in the United States than people who want them.

When that happens, it should change the equation for how brands think about their relationship to the broader vaccination campaign. A Krispy Kreme marketer told the Wall Street Journal, “This is one of those situations where we’d love to be copied over and over again.” It’s true that this kind of effort will have more impact if it starts to feel like a norm rather than a stunt. Particularly if mass brands are prominently involved — hopefully transcending the weird political dimension that has characterized some vaccine resistance.

Over time, the message should transition from offering a reward or treating vaccination as a source of status toward treating it as a routine but valuable duty that benefits everyone, like voting. In that case, maybe the best case to be made for current pro-vaccine brand promotions is that they aren’t opportunistic — they’re just a bit early.

Author The Art of Noticing. Related newsletter at

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