19 March 2020, LONDON – Appealing to people’s good nature and sense of community are the most effective ways to communicate crucial public health messages, including preventing stockpiling food and other essentials in response to Covid-19.

Research undertaken by Hill+Knowlton Strategies (H+K), an international communications agency, aimed to identify the most effective ways to land the Government’s important public health messages during the current health crisis.

Interested in seeing how these messages were being received and the impact they had on behavior, H+K’s behavioral science unit tested a series of messages with a nationally representative sample of 1,000 members of the UK general public.

“H+K has extensive experience in designing effective research driven communication campaigns that both grab attention and change behavior. We wanted to use our knowledge to help.”

Dan Berry, Head of H+K UK's Behavioral Science unit

Respondents were asked whether they had already stockpiled and if they intended to this week. The research revealed that two thirds (68%) of Brits say they are not stockpiling.

Showing people that others were not stockpiling was found to be reassuring, and meant they were 20% less likely to stockpile themselves, compared to message that merely instructed them not to.

The research also tested messages on hand washing, face touching and self-isolation. It found:

  • The NHS’s campaign is very effective in raising awareness of the importance of handwashing regularly for 20 seconds. However, its impact could be enhanced by using messages that explain how washing your hands helps others as well as yourself (up from 54% to 62%).
  • The most effective messages on self-isolation stressed how doing so can protect your family. This was ten percentage points more effective than when people are provided more extensive information.
  • For face touching, providing facts – such as advice to touch your face with a tissue rather than hands – is substantially less effective (nine percentage points) in changing behavior than suggesting how to help our family.

“The outcome of the research gives us a reason to be positive. The UK public are responding to Covid-19 better than some of the media coverage and social media conversation would have us believe. When people understand that most people aren’t stockpiling, they won’t either.

"The public are most likely to follow public health advice when they understand it isn’t just about protecting themselves but protecting their loved ones and community. Words matter; through this crisis we need to communicate with impact, so the public understands and supports actions to slow the spread of the virus. The precise language we use, and who the messages come from, can make a big difference in moving people from awareness to action.”

Dan Berry

For Media Enquiries:

Suzy Greenwood, UK Head of Business Development and Marketing

07528 272727 | suzy.greenwood@hkstrategies.com

Megan Jackson, Senior Marketing Executive

07809 643667 | megan.jackson@hkstrategies.com

About Hill+Knowlton Strategies
Hill+Knowlton Strategies, Inc. is an international communications consultancy, providing services to local, multinational and global clients. The firm is headquartered in New York, with over 80 offices in more than 40 markets, as well as an extensive associate network. The agency is part of WPP, one of the world’s largest communications services groups.

For more information about H+K, click here, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and follow us on LinkedIn.

Notes to editors:

  • The research was conducted between 11-13 March 2020, with a nationally representative sample of 1,000 members of the UK general public
  • People taking part in the research we’re randomly shown one of multiple messages on each of the public health challenges: stockpiling, self-isolation, hand washing and face touching.
  • This was followed by asking them their attitudes and intended behaviour change having seen the message. The data was derived from comparing between those groups i.e. people who saw message A versus message B.
  • While no research is perfect, this method minimises much of the biases from research, for example asking people to choose a preference from multiple similar messages, as this is not reflective of real life.