Since the COVID-19 crisis began, we’ve seen many national, state and local leaders ask Americans to adopt new ways of living and working to protect the greater good of our communities and nation. But we’ve seen varying degrees of adoption of new habits. Let’s explore the quarantine messaging of different U.S. cities and states and share takeaways for crafting persuasive messages that incite action for the greater good.
On March 19th, the City of Los Angeles issued a ‘Safer at Home’ Order. The name of the order, and its related communications, elevate the idea that residents are just that—safer at home.
From Mayor Eric Garcetti’s announcement, “I’m issuing a Safer at Home emergency order — ordering all residents of the City of Los Angeles to stay inside their residences, and immediately limit all movement outside of their homes beyond what is absolutely essential. We’re taking this urgent action to limit the spread of COVID-19 and save lives in our communities.”
This ‘Safer at home’ messaging elevates the personal benefit of staying at home—increasing one’s safety. Given America’s individualistic culture, this concept is likely to resonate. It also appeals to a sense of fear, which many research studies have identified as effective despite the potential downside of increasing anxiety.
Nevertheless, people still flocked to L.A.’s beaches and hiking trails. If we examine the message more closely, we see that it’s misleading. While we’re still learning about the virus, much of what’s been published is that the majority of COVID-19 cases are mild, especially for those who are younger and do not have pre-existing conditions. Moreover, according to Census data from July 2019, only 12 percent of the City of Los Angeles is over the age of 65. Combined with the mental health risks of social distancing, we see that the concept of ‘safer at home’ isn’t true for the majority of Los Angelenos. The reality is that many people are being asked to stay home not because it’s safer for them, but because it will help keep others, especially the high-risk populations, safe.
Zooming out to the state of California, we see a slightly different message being elevated: Stay at home.
From California Governor Gavin Newsom’s announcement of the order, “…there’s a recognition of our interdependence that requires […] we direct a statewide order for people to stay at home […] to protect themselves, to protect their families, and to protect the broader community in this great state, in the world that we reside in.”
This message is clear and direct about what Californians should do. But if we consider what will compel individuals to change behavior, it’s missing the benefit—why should I stay at home? Additionally, the surrounding communications bury a lot of essential information. For example, certain messages direct people to learn more at covid19.ca.gov. Rather than highlighting relevant information, the Governor’s messaging is creating extra work for residents.
If we look beyond the sunshine state, we see Oregon is elevating a powerful and persuasive message: Stay home. Save lives.
From Oregon governor Kate Brown’s announcement, “I started by asking Oregonians to stay home and practice social distancing. Then I urged the public to follow these recommendations. Instead, thousands crowded the beaches of our coastal communities, our trails, our parks, and our city streets, potentially spreading COVID-19 and endangering the lives of others across the state. Now, I’m ordering it. To save lives and protect our community.”
So, what can other leaders learn from Oregon’s approach?
The message is clear
To start, it uses simple and plain language. When I read this, I know what Oregon wants me to do. They aren’t afraid to be direct and do so in a way that doesn’t feel like fear-mongering. Looking beyond the highest-level message, the surrounding communications anticipate the questions people might have and puts relevant information front and center. And their designs let the message stand out and don’t distract with competing visuals.
It speaks to the benefit
It also clearly speaks to why I should stay home by accurately capturing the benefit. ‘Saving lives’ could speak to my own life, but also the lives of neighbors and fellow Oregonians. It is also a compelling benefit and speaks to humanity’s desire to contribute to a great cause.
It’s easy to consume
Finally, they’re promoting this message in channels that are accessible to residents. The Governor’s office has created a social media toolkit to enable and encourage sharing the message. It is offering text and email updates for those who want to stay informed.
During this pandemic, our actions have the potential to make an exponential impact, and this includes our leaders. They need to communicate clear and compelling messages that help Americans understand the impact of their behaviors and why they need to change. Through simple and direct messaging that speaks to a compelling benefit of saving lives, Oregon has created an impactful message that incites action for the greater good.
Katie Conway is a Senior Strategy Director on our Los Angeles team