Most of us aren’t scientists or doctors. But we are, potentially, spreading Coronavirus. So we all need to change our behaviour. Simple behaviours like washing your hands or social distancing.
The problem is that many of us haven’t changed our behaviours yet. And even if we have, we need to stick to those changes.
The problem: Slow behaviour change
One in ten
people think there is no threat from Coronavirus, and almost
20% of us refuse to wash our hands more. Only 31% think that avoiding going out
is a very effective way to stop Coronavirus. An international poll recently
found that the UK was less worried about Coronavirus than any other country
polled. While people are starting to change their behaviour, it’s far too slow.
people to change their behaviour. And it’s likely we are going to need this
change for the rest of 2020.
So how do we
The good news
is that ideas spread like viruses.
gives us two areas to target. Both inoculating people against bad ideas, and
making good ideas more infectious.
Inoculate with good ideas
First of all
we need to inoculate people against bad ideas. Making bad ideas less
of psychological research shows that it’s hard to change people’s minds.
So the best
way to stop disinformation is to inoculate people with a good belief.
people what the myths are.
them something true, but wrapped in emotion.
mortality rates are the language of scientists and politicians. We need to
speak the language of persuasion. That means showing the emotional risk to
people who don’t feel personally threatened.
‘How would you feel if you accidentally infected your granny?’.
This risk is
a serious concern among experts, and it’s implicit in government
But when we
bring the risk to the level of one person, it works better. That’s why
charities put up posters with a single child in them, not the millions who need
Make change interesting
need to make behaviour change interesting. More infectious.
easy to spend a lot on advertising that isn’t noticed.
British people saw the Get Ready for Brexit campaign 55 times. Yet 42% of
people didn’t remember it. We can’t afford for 42% of people to not change
government’s new ads are an improvement. But relying on a few overstretched
civil servants and their ad agencies isn’t enough to reach the full range of
same messages for months on end will also be extremely boring. In fact you are
probably bored of the handwashing message already – and it’s only been a few
government should create a few simple briefs around the biggest problems, and
crowdsource the answer. The Wash Hands Poster generator is a great example, but
why isn’t government taking the best of these and amplifying them across
creativity of Britain’s young people on TikTok can entertain older people on
Get the right messengers
aren’t just young people though. We sometimes forget that the messenger matters
to older people too.
government aren’t always the right people.
In 1981 the
government had to decide who to communicate vital information in the event of a
nuclear attack. They chose Kevin Keegan and Ian Botham. A footballer and a
much about nuclear war.
don’t always pay attention to experts, even if we know we should.
priority has to be older people. While most now say they are willing to
self-isolate, it will be hard to maintain this for long periods.
If you want
older people to self isolate effectively then the Queen & David
Attenborough are the perfect messengers.
known and loved by virtually the whole country. David Attenborough is liked by
86% of people – and is associated with popular science.
Attenborough & Windsor self-isolate and start doing video calls, people
will pay attention. When the Queen keeps away from other people, not just
Prince Charles, it will send a powerful signal that Coronavirus is a danger to
And when David Attenborough washes his hands
and tells other people to, it will reach people who don’t trust the government.
government should start a programme specifically targeting celebrities. Every
foolish statement from a pop star creates problems that need to be undone. And
every government message they carry is free advertising.
And one final
challenge for the government’s campaign.
Don’t forget NHS staff
tell who has been infected with a bad ideas
We also have
to be careful assuming that everyday experts like doctors are always well
I did research
on flu vaccine 10 years ago. NHS staff didn’t understand the benefits.
astounded to find that they often believed vaccine myths. Unsurprisingly only
35% got vaccinated.
The good news
is that over the last ten years the NHS has doubled it. Today over 70% get the
How did they
do this? Through a highly effective NHS communications campaign.
Inoculate with good messages. And just because it’s important, don’t think that people will listen to you.
This article originally appeared in Campaign.