America’s businesses have discovered vaccine marketing

Get vaccinated and get a free Krispy Kreme donut.
Get vaccinated and get a free Krispy Kreme donut.
Image: Reuters/Carlo Allegri
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Get vaccinated, get a doughnut—or lots of doughnuts. That’s the promise of doughnut chain Krispy Kreme, which is offering customers who show proof of vaccination a free glazed doughnut every day for the rest of 2021.

The deal is the latest and biggest example of companies rewarding customers who get vaccinated against Covid-19 with deals that simultaneously lure them into their businesses. It’s what you could call vaccine marketing.

Krispy Kreme's ad promising a free glazed donut to customers who show proof of being vaccinated
Krispy Kreme’s sweet deal.
Image: Krispy Kreme

Mostly they’ve been small establishments like Oak and Reel, an Italian restaurant in Detroit that is offering its menu at 50% off to vaccinated patrons. A marijuana dispensary in Michigan has been offering a free pre-rolled joint to those who can show they’ve gotten the vaccine, a promotion it calls “Pot for Shots.” One bar in Massachusetts is giving vaccinated patrons discounts on food, and another in Chicago promised gift cards to the first 1,000 customers who’ve gotten the vaccine.

The owners generally say they’re doing their part to combat Covid-19, which has ravaged small businesses like bars and restaurants across the US. “If I can help stop the pandemic in any slightest way, and this is the way I can do it, so be it,” the Michigan dispensary owner told CNN.

Not a national trend—yet

Only a few businesses operating nationwide have so far extended vaccine-related promotions to the general public. Ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft have pledged free or discounted transportation to those in need of rides to vaccine sites. Companies instead have typically focused on deals for healthcare workers or providing their own employees with incentives to get vaccinated.

Time will tell if Krispy Kreme is pioneering a new marketing trend among national businesses, but companies that venture down this path may need to be cautious. Experts who spoke to the Wall Street Journal said brands risk looking like opportunists trying to benefit from a public-health issue, or like they’re making light of serious problem.

Even so, the biggest concern among companies large and small is what might happen to their businesses if Covid-19 infection rates don’t continue to decline. Free doughnuts or joints aren’t likely to be the deciding factor in what convinces someone hesitant about receiving a vaccine to actually get their shot, but businesses seem to be hoping they might have some influence. In the meantime, they’re getting customers in the door.