In one of the ads, a young girl could be seen sitting by a window watching a group of kids playing outside.
She asks her mother if she can go outside and play with her friends, to which her mother responds, “No honey, there’s still something going around.”
The girl says “Okay,” and looks back outside the window.
The ad then says, “Kids should be out there. Not in here.
“COVID-19 vaccines available for children 6 months to 12 years.
“Thank you for getting vaccinated.”
The other ads show similar scenarios of children isolated at home. In two of the ads, children are seen at home instead of in classrooms.
In another, a boy tries to speak to his friend via a video chat before losing connection.
“Human connections are stronger than internet connections,” the ad says, before again noting that COVID vaccines are available for young children.
Shortly after the ads were posted online, they received sharp criticism, with many social media users saying they were inappropriate, as they seemed to imply there are important life moments children cannot participate in without getting a shot.
City of Toronto spokesperson Brad Ross addressed the ads in a statement sent to Global News.
“The video created was intended to highlight the impact it (the pandemic) has had on children and inform parents and caregivers that vaccines for children are now available,” Ross said.
“Vaccination remains the most effective way to protect our children, families, communities and ourselves against the serious effects of COVID-19.
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“This video missed the mark on that message and should not have been posted.”
Ross said a series of five videos “directed at parents and caregivers about children’s vaccines has been paused” while a review is underway.
In an interview with Global News, Ross clarified that officials particularly took issue with one of the “public service announcements,” which were intended for online platforms only.
“We’re going to review the other four as well to make sure that they’re, you know, current. That it’s sending the right message. That it’s not suggesting that if people are not vaccinated that they can’t do things, that they can’t see people,” he said — though each video appears to portray similar scenarios.
Ross’ statement said each will be reviewed “to ensure the messages are clear and unambiguous: vaccines are available for children and they are safe.”
The videos cost $4,000 each to produce, for a total of $20,000, he said.
“This video series is a community-led initiative by the vaccine engagement team, a group of ambassadors that has been extremely effective in educating and informing residents – especially hard-to-reach residents – about the efficacy of vaccine, its safety and its availability,” Ross’ statement continued.
“This video sent the wrong message.”
Ross said any future videos will “undergo a more rigorous approvals process” before being made public.
Ross said both he and public health hadn’t seen the videos before they were published.
‘Contentious for no apparent reason’: ad expert
John Yorke, the owner of ad agency Rain43, said that the ads failed in trying to create behavioural change.
“Other than really making people upset, I don’t think these really are effective,” Yorke said.
“They’re confusing in a time when people feel safe and feel comfortable and they obviously are going to make people who are anti-vaxxers very, very uncomfortable.”
Yorke noted that the people who have leaned into getting vaccinated have already done so.
“The people who aren’t are actually going to, go out and protest comments like this. So the City’s making this very, very contentious for no apparent reason,” he said.
Yorke said the City needs to reexamine its ad approval process, noting that public health messaging is very scrutinized.
“It’s really important to get it right,” he said.
“When you use like this hyperbolic advertising that tries to shock people into an opinion, I think people take the opposite approach….
“I think people want reasonable, factual-based information.”
University of Toronto psychology professor Steve Joordens said the ads felt like a “step backwards” to the time of lockdowns.
He said instead, ads regarding COVID-19 vaccinations these days should be geared toward making people feel empowered to rise to defeat the remaining danger caused by the virus.