Moderna urges COVID boosters in latest ad campaign but goes light on branding

As mRNA rivals Pfizer and its partner BioNTech kick off their COVID booster ad campaign this NFL season, Moderna is also keeping up and launching a new DTC commercial.

But just like Pfizer, Moderna is having to play it cool with the branding side of things for its 15-second spot “Get Boosted this Fall,” which began airing this month. That’s because both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are promoting tweaked versions of their original vaccines but neither have full FDA approval yet.

The FDA emergency use authorizations for both vaccines, which have been tailored to the new omicron variant, came last month. But EUAs limit the marketing capacity for pharmas to promote their drugs.

That’s why Moderna's latest ad—like Pfizer's—has more of an awareness campaign feel. The Spikevax name is not mentioned, nor is there a direct mention of its booster vaccine. The ad simply says that “updated boosters help protect against variants,” with the plural 'boosters' being a quiet nod to Pfizer-BioNTech’s omicron booster.

Much of the commercial is simply text on colored background, starting off by saying “we’re sick of COVID, but we don’t want to get sick with COVID, either” and then urges people to get their boostersModerna's logo sits at the bottom of the ad throughout, and the company carries over part of its logo within the text as an extra, albeit subtle, layer of promotion.

Pfizer employs a similar tact with its booster ad, known as “More”, which launched Sept. 8, the day before the NFL season kicked off. Here, a narrator tells the story, in rhyme, about the “normal” things that happen in everyday life with the tagline, “the more you want to do, the more we want to do.”

This is a specific plug for Pfizer’s new COVID boosters, but as with Moderna, the name of Pfizer's original vaccine, Comirnaty, isn’t used in the ad itself, but logos for Pfizer and its partner BioNTech are shown at the end of the spot. It's worth noting, that since these updated booster shots only have emergency authorization and aren't full approved, they technically do not have a brand name. In fact, Pfizer's is called Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine, Bivalent and Moderna's is the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine, Bivalent, though that could change should both gain full approval down the line. 

Moderna's booster campaign comes after the company tapped into major sports events for its marketing campaign. Just last month, it scored tennis legend Billie Jean King as part of its U.S. Open sponsorship.

Here, the big biotech looked to boost awareness of mRNA technology in general, with no specific promotional branded marketing attached. But the campaign does note Moderna's work on COVID vaccines and in other areas such as how mRNA may help with cancer.

Moderna made tens of billions of dollars for its Spikevax vaccine in 2021 but will struggle for sales this year as most adults have had their round of shots. Making shots annual and variant-specific should help pick up some of that lost revenue, though adoption of the latest mRNA boosters has been weak.

Around 4.4 million people got the updated COVID booster this month, according to data released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's just 1.5% of people eligible to receive the shots in the U.S. Clearly both Pfizer and Moderna are turning to the old pharma playbook of spending on DTCs to help shore up these figures.