Keep it simple, Make it social, Change behaviour… Lessons from Corona Communications’

It could be argued that the best weapon against Covid-19 is public cooperation. But how do you persuade 66 million people to change their ways?

Behaviour change techniques have been used in communications by policymakers for some time, in campaigns about everything from reducing alcohol consumption, to enrolling in pensions. But the UK Government’s ‘Stay Home, Save Lives’ campaign has arguably been one of its most successful: a survey [1] from the University of Sheffield suggests that 85-90% of the population are complying with social distancing guidelines all of the time.

‘EAST’ is a simple framework which captures four important and useful concepts from behaviour change. These principles can be applied to the communications of any sector or organisation, but the government’s ‘Stay Home’ campaign has provided a good example of EAST in practice:

E – ‘Easy’

Keep the message simple. Lists of three or a ‘tricolon’ have been used in persuasive speech since Roman times and are still very common today. The government’s tricolon of statements is clear and simple, “Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives” and has proven effective.

A – ‘Attractive’

This doesn’t entail making your spokesperson the best-looking member of your team, otherwise we may have seen more of ‘Dishy Rishi’… It involves attracting the audience’s attention – this can include using images, colour, or personalisation. Did you notice how the background of “Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives” changed from a simple white and blue, to a cross-party solidarity blue-red-yellow, to the current yellow and red ‘hazard-sign’?

S – ‘Social’

Social norms have been a cornerstone of behaviour change campaigns for years and remain one of the most effective means to change behaviour. Put simply, we like to do what everyone else is doing. The government continually emphasises that ‘most people’ are adhering to the guidelines and staying at home. The tabloid newspapers trying to shame ‘Covidiots’ may actually be doing more harm than good; drawing attention to this kind of behaviour will make others more likely to copy it.

T – ‘Timely’

Behaviour is generally easier to change when habits are already disrupted, such as around major life events. Fortunately for the government, this pandemic has been THE major life event for the majority of the population, which could partly explain the high levels of compliance. Another aspect of ‘timely’ is that people are more influenced by costs and benefits that take immediate effect than those delivered later. The focus of the government’s message has been the lives that will be saved now, rather than the long-term benefits of slowing the spread of the virus.

These simple principles have helped to create a highly successful behaviour change campaign – some would argue too successful. David Halpern, Chief Executive of the Behavioural Insights Team, which developed the ‘Stay Home’ communications, recently revealed [2] that the organisation is now working on messaging to alter the potentially harmful behaviour of people avoiding hospitals altogether. And as the government prepares to announce a lockdown exit strategy this week, the communication to the public will need to become more nuanced in this more complex phase.

One thing is certain, the ‘pen’ has proven a mighty tool for mass behaviour change. Now that the behavioural reset button has been pressed, organisations across all sectors have a unique opportunity post pandemic to use this tool to embed a new set of behaviours.

At Luther Pendragon we apply the latest thinking in communications and behavioural science to get the best outcomes for our clients. This has included campaigns for active travel, reducing air pollution and boosting savings. If you would like to hear more about Luther’s work and how we can help with your communications strategy or behaviour change campaigns, please email




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