The “ketchup effect” in the context of Corona vaccination strategies

Many politicians have frequently used war metaphors when communicating about the Corona crisis. That the use of combative metaphors in this context should be considered problematic has already been pointed out by Joachim Peters and me in several posts on our blog. Especially in relation to vaccination policy, combative metaphors do not seem to be purposeful (see more detailed our last post on vaccine queue jumpers and vaccine envy). In summary, the strong emotionalization and conceptualization of the vaccination situation as an extreme situation, even as a war situation, can promote negative attitudes regarding vaccination policy and can foster conflicts between different states or social groups. The recent statements by Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz show that the discourse around vaccination policy is now to be steered in a more positive direction. Both politicians used the “ketchup effect” metaphor to talk about the current and future situation of vaccination in their respective countries. Why did they use the ketchup effect metaphor? What emotions did they want to evoke?

What is the ketchup effect metaphor supposed to say and aim for?

The ketchup effect needs little explanation. Who doesn’t know it? At first, too little comes out of the ketchup bottle, but when you shake and tap it a little, suddenly far too much flows out. This is precisely the phenomenon to which the Danish prime minister alluded: At first, there was too little vaccine, but soon there will be so much available in Denmark that the country will have to be on the starting blocks when it comes to vaccinating. The Austrian chancellor also used the ketchup metaphor to motivate his citizens to persevere: the ketchup effect is meant to symbolize the small amount of vaccine doses that are currently available and, at the same time, to tune in to the fact that very soon there will be many more vaccine doses, paving the way toward normality. So the ketchup effect metaphor simultaneously encodes a sequence of events and also different quantities (first a little, then a lot).

What does the ketchup effect metaphor aim to achieve on an emotional level? 

The ketchup metaphor addresses several emotional aspects: first, it prepares the population for the upcoming mass vaccinations, which are a major logistical challenge and already require extensive preparations (Mette Frederiksen). Dissenting voices (why should we make these efforts now, when there is no vaccine yet?) are to be appeased with the objective communication of the facts (there will be a lot of vaccine very soon). On the other hand, the ketchup metaphor is a reassuring metaphor, charged with positive emotions, that directs the view forward – the “solution” to the problem is focused on and it is communicated that there will be a lot of vaccine very soon (Sebastian Kurz). 

In sum, we can see that the use of the ketchup effect metaphor is part of a good crisis communication strategy, as it contributes to the goal of establishing trust. The deficiencies are named and at the same time a solution is pointed out. At the same time, it expresses the importance of remaining calm and surviving the Corona crisis together. 

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