• Stephen McCarron

Silly Slogans

Wading through Covid mud

So, the big talking point of this week in the world of communications has been Boris’s new mantra, ‘Stay alert’

It’s been slated by Matt Lucas, critiqued by Mark Ritson and rejected by Nicola Sturgeon.

So, what’s wrong with it? Mark is pretty clear. The problem is clarity.

I would go a bit deeper than this. Often when brands have muddled communications it’s because the underlying strategy is muddled and vague. Woolly strategy begets woolly creative execution.

I think that this dog’s dinner of a slogan is due to the fact that he hasn’t clarified the communications strategy. It is a classic case of crafting creative by committee, at the last minute, without a creative brief. As Mark says ‘strategy is about sacrifice’, but what is the sacrifice? They haven’t defined it. The government wants it all ways - to keep people in side, have them get back to work, but not use public transport – as Matt Lucas lampoons: ‘stay at home, go outside, go to work, but only if you have to…’ etc. etc.

So, let’s have a stab at defining the strategy, and then see whether we can get to a better slogan very quickly.

The previous strategy was super-simple because it could be boiled down to a singular behavioural directive: stay at home.

The difficulty with the current direction is that from a behavioural point of view it is much more nuanced. How do you pithily summarise something that involves enabling people to go to work only if they can’t work from home, and meeting up with people from other households for exercise, in pairs, as long as you maintain 2m apart? You can’t. Furthermore, once you start to lift lock-down it creates a huge amount of complexity in terms of how you manage the change in a safe way. Managing the change involves specific new modes of operation, which build safety in, for different spheres (work/schools/exercise). Such behavioural complexity can only be conveyed in a 50 page dossier.

Therefore the communications strategy needs to shift to reflect this. It is no longer about conveying a simple behavioural rule, it is about encouraging people to grasp a series of principles and then apply them in a myriad of situations, some of which nobody will have thought of yet.

The new approach requires individuals to take much more personal responsibility for working out the correct and appropriate behaviours themselves, by embracing a number of principles and interpreting them in the context of their own lives. So, the big shift here is to move away from top-down behavioural direction towards liberating people, bottom-up, to interpret and apply new principles themselves.

So maybe we need to honest about this. Maybe the strategy should be about empowerment and responsibility, not attentiveness. Encourage the nation to be more Swedish and take more responsibility themselves (within clear guidelines). Afterall, people like to be trusted, they like to be treated like adults.

So, at the risk of making an idiot of myself I’m going to have a crack at a new strategic proposition and, a new slogan that follows out of it. Fortunately I can do this without the fear of being nationally lampooned by Matt Lucas.

If you don’t like the proposition, don’t worry. My overall point here is that in order to get clarity in execution, you need a clear strategy. Once you get to that point, creative execution and sloganeering is much easier.

So here goes:

New Proposition: it’s down to us all to act and behave like grown-ups - let’s work together to lift lockdown gradually and safely.

New slogan: Use your Covid-sense

I'm so sorry!😬

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