Social Distancing & Behavior Change

6 feet, 3 Canadian geese, 2 meters or one alligator apart.

With the sad news of a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in LA County, the continued reminder to stay 6 feet apart is ever more important. As some normalcy slowly returns (well…in fits and starts!), getting new behaviors to stick long-term is the next big global experiment. And a challenge it will be as quarantine fatigue increases and shaming people doesn’t work.
So far, it has been interesting to see how the three key factors for effective behavior change have been used:

1. Short and Sweet Reminders Stick

When a new behavior, like staying 6 feet apart, goes against our innate social nature (who doesn’t want to hug their friends or enjoy a social summer BBQ!) behavior change can only be truly effective when its reminders are simple and easy to remember.
Although we still have so much to learn about COVID-19’s transmission (with new findings coming every day), the blanket rule of staying 6 feet apart (or washing your hands for the amount of time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice) helps people to change as we do so. But an aphorism is just the first step. We are visual species and, in reality, many have found it hard to know exactly how far apart 6 feet is.

2. Iconography for Impact

People remember 80% of what they see and do, and only 20% of what they read. Given how much more powerful a visual can be than words, it has been interesting to see the creativity some countries have used to try to visually reinforce the 6 feet rule. Canada especially has been on top form:


3. Storytelling: “If I look at the mass, I will never act.” (Mother Theresa)

It’s easy to feel apathetic when one hears a statistic, but when one hears a story from a nurse, it helps humanize the overwhelming pace, scale and complexity of the COVID-19 pandemic. Stories help us build empathy. We humans take action because of emotions, not because of numbers.
The right image can tell an entire story. The images of frontline workers, at the start of the pandemic forced to wear trash bags as makeshift PPE shows so much more – their sheer grit, dedication, sacrifices, missed time with their own families and the stress and grief they face every single day.

Source: March 26, 2020

So much of our work at SGA right now is testing and applying communication techniques in what has been a worldwide experiment in getting social distancing to stick. We have focused on helping our clients adjust their messaging to fit in with our new long term reality (such as the dilemma of reusable grocery bag bans!).
In this uncertain time, my hope for us Angelenos is that we continue to figure out together how to counter quarantine fatigue and keep the crucial importance of social distancing top of mind for everyone.
From my makeshift kitchen table/office, staying socially close and one caribou apart.

-Stephen Groner-

light colored dog laying in green grass; baby with blond hair has hands on the dog and is looking at the dog
This past ad campaign we did for the Contra Costa Clean Water Program showcases the power of having the right visceral visual. Want to see more examples from our work? Read our recent blog article on the Power of Visuals Over Words.

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