The Government has scaled up its public health messaging with a series of striking adverts warning the public “people will die” if they don’t stay home during the coronavirus lockdown.
Full-page adverts featuring the new messaging – including the slogan “Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives” – have been placed in most national newspapers, while social media users have also been targeted with the advertising across a variety of platforms.
The new campaign takes a far stronger tone than any produced by the Government before, using striking red and yellow colouring and featuring dramatic images of NHS staff in face masks and other protective wear.
In one example, promoted on Facebook, users are told: “If you go out, you can spread it. People will die.”
Anyone can spread #coronavirus.
— GOV UK (@GOVUK) March 30, 2020
Another warns: “Anyone can get it. Anyone can spread it.”
Louis Hill, a public relations expert and managing director of The Source PR, told the PA news agency the Government was “learning from their mistakes” in terms of its communications strategy.
“I believe that the Government has noted that their earlier tactics were not successful, and has now moved to more open, transparent, and if you like – firmer – comms.
“The announcement of a lockdown was unlike anything our generation has ever seen. The messaging from the Government was clear and concise: you must not leave your home.
“Before this, using words such as ‘we advise’ and ‘we suggest’ meant that many did not feel inclined to follow the rules,” he added.
However, Karl Wikstrom, senior planner at Swedish creative agency Akestam Holst, expressed doubt that the stronger message would have an impact.
“When it comes to these sorts of public health campaigns there is a tendency for overt scare tactics to misfire,” he said.
He added: “If you make advertising too threatening or too serious, the public reject it as they can’t relate to it.
“We see this on research on smoking adverts – if you tell people they will die, they ignore it because they can’t process their own death.”
Downing Street, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson in particular, had previously faced criticism for communications from ministers and official Government channels in the early stages of the outbreak.
Dr Jenny Harries, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, came into Downing Street to answer some of the most commonly asked questions on coronavirus. pic.twitter.com/jByRhFFfat
— Boris Johnson #StayHomeSaveLives (@BorisJohnson) March 11, 2020
Ministers were accused of failing to act quickly enough to prevent the spread of the virus, initially saying it was not necessary to cancel mass gatherings such as football matches and concerts.
Mr Johnson attracted criticism after stating at the beginning of March that he would continue shaking people’s hands despite medical guidance not to do so.
The new push comes after Number 10 confirmed the appointment of the Conservatives’ party campaign chief Isaac Levido to aid its communications around the Covid-19 crisis.
It has also been reported that Downing Street has hired Topham Guerin, the creative agency responsible for the Conservatives’ social media strategy during last year’s successful general election campaign.
The group is known for using brash messaging, memes and pop culture references to gain traction on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
The Conservative campaign came under the spotlight for a number of controversial stunts during the election, including the rebranding of one of the Tory Party Twitter accounts to FactcheckUK and a poster series showing Jeremy Corbyn in a chicken suit.