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Tell them what to do, not how to feel

In one of my latest posts, I talked about the rule of three and how brands, governments, and organisations use it to convey their message clearly.

This week the British government changed the lockdown message from Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives to Stay alert. Control the virus. Save lives.

After the new broadcast was released Google searches for Can I visit my family? hit the roof.

Compare Stay at home with Stay alert.

I know what staying at home means, but I’m not really sure what staying alert implies.

Stay alert is open to interpretation and is fear-based, as if something bad is going to happen. The natural reaction to Stay alert is to try to understand what I am and am not allowed to do.

Why did the government change the message? Probably because they wanted to create a feeling of progress: that we’re moving forward, that we’re getting better. They want us to feel safe and reassured, but guess what? The result has been the opposite.

People find the message confusing. And it is. It sounds like if the government is telling us “I want you to do something that you’ve been doing for while, but I want you to feel different about it”.

The power of the rule of three only works if you have three clear messages. It works because it’s direct and simple, and it is perceived as safe and clear. If you play with it, be sure to stick to the basics: tell them what to do, but never how to feel.



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