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Communicating pandemic restrictions

Ronnie Gunn | 18 Jan, 2021 | Return|

Since the Covid-19 pandemic crisis began last year, the public has generally abided by the rules to avoid the spread of infection, although many people been confused by the periodic and sometimes rapid changes in guidance. 

The government has frequently found itself between a rock and a hard place, trying to keep the public safe from infection while also limiting adverse effects on the economy, employment and the public's mental wellbeing. 

However, at time of writing, there have now been over 3 million cases of Covid-19 in the UK and more than 80,000 deaths related to the virus. The highly infectious new variant is stretching NHS resources to the limit. The current lockdown was therefore inevitable, but there has been evidence that many people are not adhering to the rules as strictly as was the case under the first lockdown imposed in March 2020.


A Covid-19 message that gets it right

This is the context in which a new public awareness ad campaign has been launched by the government, fronted by England's Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Witty. As experienced marketers, we believe that the message in this public awareness communication is particularly effective...

"Act like you've got Covid-19" 

This can be seen as an empowering message rather than an imposed instruction. It is also based on principles that have a communication value outside the parameters of the current pandemic. We believe that this message:

  • Activates the imagination. People have witnessed Covid-19 hospital patients on TV. They may well react by thinking what they would experience if they had it or how they would feel if they knew they had passed the infection to someone else.
  • Relies on a storytelling rather than an instructional approach and, for the many carriers of the virus that are asymptomatic, the message would be wholly accurate.
  • Provides a strong and clearly worded reason for someone to do what they feel is appropriate for a given situation. Everyone is urged to think for themselves rather than follow, and maybe bend, the rules.
  • Offers a clear authoritative argument to counter different opinions, such as whether it's acceptable to go ahead with a non-essential meeting or appointment. "Would you agree to meet me if you knew I had Covid-19?" is a pretty strong way of closing the debate.
  • Builds gratitude and goodwill with the person that has used the argument for their own benefit.

Taking the message beyond Covid-19

As we have already indicated, BBI Brandboost believes that the message in this public awareness advert has wider implications for marketing and communications. 

It seeks to engage with individuals on a personal level and encourages them to think for themselves rather than simply obey instructions. Also, given the issue of asymptomatic carriers, "Act like you have Covid-19" is based on a premise that may well be true. Finally, it can build confidence in a person that they are behaving appropriately.

Fostering engagement, aiding personal decision making, communicating to stimulate the imagination - all these are principles that can be applied to digital marketing and social media strategies.

Please feel free to contact BBI Brandboost if you would be interested to discuss these topics further. 

About the Author

Ronnie Gunn

Ronnie Gunn

As Head of Communications, Ronnie focuses on content writing, PR and media relations. Throughout a long journalistic and business career, he has developed an exceptional talent for spotting a good story and knowing how to tell it. His varied experience allows him to understand complex technical subjects like precision engineering and appreciate the key selling points of consumer markets such as travel.

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