Time to face up to the fact that government messaging isn’t working. 100,000 graves prove that fact. The messaging is confusing, weak and half-hearted. It feels like guidance, like advice, and not like a strong instruction. I would like to propose an alternative message, but first let’s dissect what’s wrong with the current one.
Look at the colours on the sign. It feels like a traffic sign. Something you’d drive past, pay attention to, then forget ten minutes later. It does not feel serious or deadly. It feels like a warning, not a serious instruction. Yellow is the colour of friendly advice. The colours are wrong, it should be very, very red, all over, not just decorated with a red stripe effect. This is an emergency. It is not about to happen, it is happening. The time for warning is past.
It is adorned with the HM Government and NHS logos, perhaps with the intention of adding credibility, but these logos distract from the message. Get rid of them. Stay focused.
“Stay At Home”
This part of the message is nowhere near strongly enough put. It doesn’t forbid anything. It feels like advice. Best stay at home today, it’s cold out. People will ignore it. People have been ignoring it. People will stick a face mask on and continue going out, regardless of whether it’s essential or not. The message should be much stronger, it should be Do Not Leave Your House. Nonetheless, Stay At Home is far better than the much derided (and thankfully retracted) Stay Alert.
“Protect the NHS“
This line is particularly galling. It deflects that very clear responsibility away from the government and places it squarely upon the public. We pay taxes so that the NHS can be protected and enabled by government. How dare they tell us it’s our job now? It’s their job to equip them with PPE, to fund them, vaccinate them, provide proper resources and safety measures, to pay a fair wage to nurses and doctors. Not our job. Theirs.
Boris Johnson is desperate for us not to ‘overwhelm’ the NHS. Well, alright, perhaps the NHS needs a boost. So let’s remind ourselves of Boris Johnson’s 2019 election promises for the NHS shall we? 40 new hospitals, 50 million extra GP appointments per year, 50,000 more nurses, and a funding boost of £1.8 billion. (Let’s not even get into the £350m per week thing).
Surely some of that will help to Protect the NHS, won’t it? Except that he’s not done any of it. So it seems Johnson’s own promise to protect the NHS has gone down the drain, and he’s decided instead that it’s our job, the public, to protect the NHS now.
Also, the words ‘Protect the NHS’ send out a signal that you shouldn’t burden the NHS with your silly little ‘normal’ problems, like athlete’s foot, or flu, or cancer. It dumps a truck load of guilt upon those of us having to use the NHS for non-covid reasons. This is not unintentional; it’s calculated, it’s all about allocating a feeling of blame to anywhere but Downing Street. Instead of Protect the NHS, the message should be, Listen To The NHS. The public need to follow whatever their doctors are telling them, and if the NHS tells you, ‘come and see us about your cancer worries’, then listen to them.
This is absurdly vague. It is trying again to divert blame; to subtly tell you that people are dying, and it’s your job to save them. But it isn’t daring to say it directly. A far better and stronger message would be something like Don’t Infect People. We need to be told that’s what happens when we go out and be near others, facemask or not, social distanced or not. Being near people risks infecting them.
Proposed new messaging
And so my suggestion for a more effective anti covid message would be stronger, instructive and direct. It would be an emergency directive.
Yes, I know it’s bloody scary, but it needs to be. The situation in the UK is damn near apocalyptic now, and we can’t fight it off with half-arsed friendly slogans and vague ideas. This is extremely serious and the messaging must show that. It’s not got any logos, because they are irrelevant. It’s not got a fancy border, because that’s distracting. It is red, because it is an emergency instruction. The words ‘Do Not Leave Your House’ are far more authorative and direct than ‘Stay At Home’. Instead of instructing people to ‘Protect the NHS’ (How are we meant to do that?), it clearly says ‘Listen to the NHS’ (which we know how to do). Instead of the vague ‘Save Lives’, it tells us not to infect anyone – which goes along with listening to the NHS.
Lockdown means Lockdown… doesn’t it?
And here’s another idea: Remember Brexit means Brexit? Well, how about Lockdown means Lockdown. Currently Boris Johnson can’t even bring himself to say the ‘L’ word, so it’s little wonder people aren’t treating it as a lockdown.