Going beyond the power of three

In brand communication and creative marketing campaigns we see design agencies using it everywhere. The power of three.

Right now, its ‘Hands, Face, Space.’ A few months ago, a similar mantra was being used to urge us to control the virus, and before that it appealed to us to save the NHS.

It would appear the UK Government’s go to strategy when it comes to changing public behaviour is a trip to the brilliant David Halpern’s Nudge Unit and a request for another catchphrase that can be plastered on the front of lecterns in Whitehall and outdoor advertising up and down the land.

But it’s not working.

If pictures are to be believed, too many members of the public aren’t buying. With people dancing in the streets of Liverpool and London – and let’s remember our modern day media do have a tendency to take one social media post and demonise an entire city or generation – and with relatives imploring governments to let them see their loved ones in care homes or at births, part of the message is just not landing.

And, it’s the ‘Why’ that isn’t landing.

One might say that the ‘why’ is to save lives. I’d argue that it’s the ‘what’ – the outcome – and it’s where the current campaign is not performing successfully. To get to the why, you have to get to what we at The Team call the simple human truth.

A long time ago Margaret Thatcher said, “there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours.” I always liked to think she was wrong, and it’s true that in times of crisis society has emerged, whether it be to do the old lady down the road’s shopping or raise unimaginable amounts of money for charity to ease others suffering. But ultimately, we have created a world where society now comes second and we see the results through the creep of personal theories and the unwillingness to adhere to measures that ‘so called experts’ suggest we adopt.

If this is the simple human truth – that we are a country of narcissists – then the question is, how does a campaign tap into that reality? Is it by tapping into the notions of attention and celebrity? Is it by asking how we make ordinary members of the public famous for being COVID heroes? Does a campaign tap into what social media influencers are doing to stay safe? How is Zoella surviving after 10.00pm?

I’m being flippant, and not going to pose the answers here, but the point I’m making is that a campaign needs to go to the audience through the channels it trusts, and right now, as the Edelman Barometer has been pointing out for many years, that’s not through politicians from central government.

But somehow, this campaign, like any campaign, and in the words of Simon Sinek, ‘start with why.’ And the why is not to prevent oneself from getting the virus. It might be better aimed at saying that it is about ensuring that the 30-year-old mother has access to early breast cancer screening services that would otherwise be swamped by COVID, but even then, it could fall on deaf ears.

The answer has to be something that appeals to the individual, and it has to include something more from David Halpern’s magic box of tricks. As a speaker at Rory Sutherland’s recent Nudgestock said, if you want people to use hand sanitizer then you don’t just tell them to us it, you provide the best smelling and feeling hand sanitizer in the world so that they want to use it.

My colleague, Sally Tarbit, is our resident expert in behavioural science – and it was she who got me into this fascinating subject, eventually getting me to read The Choice Factory. Sally now uses the expertise she has to unpack the campaigns we do in behavioural economics workshops. As a self-confessed fan and proponent now, I’m looking to chapter 20 in the book: The Power of the Group, and how peoples’ mindsets are more easily influenced when they watch something together.

I am also interested in The Replicability Crisis. Two hundred and seventy scientists were asked to replicate 98 published psychological experiments. Only 47% of the studies were successfully replicated. We live in an age where data is twisted. So, twist the data that is questioning the central tenets of your campaign. If hospital admissions are on the rise, then show a national total-o-meter of beds available and the shrinking gap with likely time before beds run out in your area. Make the data real in peoples mind.

But, ultimately, focus on the why, and how it will affect you. Don’t just parrot the how (power of three) and the what (save lives).

There’s lots we can learn with our other campaigns, for customers and employees, as we observe the way in which this COVID campaign is landing.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash