As COVID-19 took hold, consumer confidence declined. Local businesses, facing risk of permanent closure, are feeling the strain — as is our county’s economy as a whole. Meanwhile, residents have received mixed and sometimes conflicting messages about staying safe amid the pandemic: Is it OK to go out? Under what circumstances? If I’m not worried about my own health, what’s my motivation to wear a mask or stay socially distanced from friends?
A regional partnership of organizations rose to the challenge, creating a consumer-confidence campaign that was for business, by business. They knew our business community needs to reach customers and employees with a strong, unified message calling for behaviors to prevent the spread of illness — for the sake of our residents’ health, and because our collective return to public health and economic survival depend on it. And they knew business owners need an easy-to-use, practical set of resources to communicate with their customers.
DH partnered with Greater Spokane Incorporated and other business groups, along with public health and media partners, to create a COVID-19 social change marketing campaign. Our aim is to help make it the norm in our community to choose simple but effective behaviors to protect against the virus’s spread — boosting confidence and helping businesses welcome customers back more safely.
We rooted our campaign in the understanding that people are “wired” for social goodness — that our brains have evolved in ways that make it hard to suppress “our innate tendencies to love, friendship and cooperation.” Built into that wiring is a tendency to copy others’ positive behaviors. One person’s good act is copied by others, and so on.
Kindness, for example, can spread like a virus. And kindness — along with compassion and respect — was what our community needed to tap into to protect one another from the spread of the coronavirus. We knew that it wouldn’t spread to everyone. Our target was the large percentage of people in the “middle” — not those who’d already made the right changes on their own, and not those who’d never change — but those willing to change based on the right information and strong leadership.
What we did
We landed on “Spread Kindness, Not COVID-19” as a social norming theme. Our supporting messaging emphasizes specific safety measures: wear masks, stay physically distant and wash your hands. The campaign avoids political framing, instead emphasizing community — essentially calling on audiences to move from “me” to “we.”
To spread the word countywide, we built a website and developed creative that could be applied to media with high audience reach, such as billboards, an animated video and digital ads.
We also made a toolkit to put the campaign into business owners’ hands to communicate with their in-person and online audiences. This toolkit lets businesses express their support and participation in the community initiative, assure their customers they prioritized safety, and urge their customers to do the same.
Finally, we’re inviting businesses to take a pledge — and to display it in their stores — to follow specific safety measures and ask customers to do the same. This type of public commitment is linked to higher follow-through rates. And this particular pledge also allows for a crucial shift in tone at a tense time, letting businesses “invite” their customers to be safe rather than “telling” them.
Among the campaign’s first applications: a banner at a PPE distribution event. The stanchion sign for shared commercial spaces draws a direct link between safe behaviors and open businesses.
We made a “how-to” guide to make it easy for businesses to use campaign tools.
As we finalized the campaign assets, we got some great news: Spread Kindness would be supported by CARES funding, enabling our partners to spread the message across Spokane County through out-of-home marketing, billboards, broadcast content and digital media.
Since the campaign launched, the Spokane Regional Health District reported a rise in mask usage from 60% to 93% and the rate of newly diagnosed cases in the region dropped 36% from 200 to as low 72 per 100,000. The campaign will rolling out in Kittitas County, WA, next.