Covid-19: Quirky campaigns to bring lasting change in people's behaviour

State police departments (Mumbai and Punjab) are mixing humour and pop culture references to nudge people towards a new way of life
As Covid-19 disrupts life as we know it, the key question that is driving much of public service advertising around the pandemic is: How must one effectively communicate the need for, and bring about, lasting change in people’s behaviour?

A recent survey by Kantar showed that in India, 45 per cent of the consumers surveyed were more bothered by the disruption, rather than the health issues caused by the virus. This is in keeping with trends across the world. With people restless to get on with the old way of life, changing behaviour for good is a tough ask. 

The WHO recommends a set of rules for public service communication in a health crisis. A health campaign must move the target audience from awareness of an issue towards a behaviour resulting in a specific health outcome, it said on its website. An effective campaign must also adapt to, and consider the context of, the community it serves. And the best way to do that is to involve partners early in the campaign, use trusted messengers and ensure availability of community resources, the WHO states.

So far countries such as India and China have relied on strong leaders to deliver the message and enforce change. However a strong arm does not always deliver lasting results and it is here that the playbook of brands, NGOs and governmental agencies that have worked with consumer behaviour transformation in the past may come in handy.


Among the most recent such initiatives is that by Tata Trusts. Its campaign, ‘Two bins wins life’ is a part of its flagship initiative, Mission Garima, which is working towards providing safe, hygienic and humane working conditions for sanitation workers. The Trust decided to distil its learnings into a film that was distributed widely on its social media timelines a few months back.

The film is well crafted tear-jerker said many communication strategists. It opens with a young boy reciting a poem that goes ‘Mera baba desh chalata hai’ (my father runs the country). Not a politician, nor policeman, doctor, or soldier, his father is a sanitation worker. The film ends with a message on the importance of waste segregation. Divyang Waghela, head Tata Water Mission said, “When we were ideating in terms of how we can bring changes on the ground, we asked ourselves, is it enough for someone to recognise them (sanitation workers) and say good morning or there should be more to it. We thought there should be something that helps reduce his intervention.” 

The government website on Covid-19 lists expected lifestyle changes, it also has short videos by doctors, actors and state health officials that exhort people to be the change

The campaign includes distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) and setting up office spaces with improved water and sanitation services, storage and other amenities, explained Waghela. Emotional messaging combined with on-the-ground interventions is a good way to initiate change say experts, but not enough. Avik Chattopadhyay, co-founder at brand consulting firm Expereal, says this is a social malaise that will not go away with teary-eyed messaging. It must be followed up with action on the ground (providing public institutions with two bins could be a start). “Without the action, the communication will only lead to likes and shares on social media,” he said.  

Another example of a campaign that sought to influence public behaviour was the one by Mumbai Police earlier this year. The police created a signal at a busy junction where the timing would reset itself every time decibel levels hit the danger mark. And then a hidden camera captured driver behaviour.


Honk more, wait more was the message and the film ended with a couple of policemen cracking up in laughter at the drivers’ inability to keep their hands off the horn. The campaign used humour, local context and public shaming to bring about change. Speaking to Business Standard soon after the launch of the campaign, Ambi M G Parameswaran, brand strategist and founder for had said, “The idea is to marry intelligent technology with something that consumers are used to, to bring about behaviour change.” Showing a countdown number (a ticker that showed the signal time going up with the decibel level), he adds, was a game changer.

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