Brands in the News

The Coming Shutdown

16 Mar 2020  

We are headed for lock-down. The specifics will vary from place to place, but more and more governments will be imposing regulations preventing people from venturing out. Yesterday Illinois joined many other nations and states and closed all restaurants.

When you look at this with a marketing lens, the outcome is quite certain.

The Virus Threat

There is little question that the COVID-19 virus is a huge threat. Mortality rates are scary, and will increase as hospitals get overwhelmed. More healthcare workers will get sick, leaving students and volunteers to provide care. There aren’t enough gowns and gloves even now.

My wife, a physician, has been fretting about the virus for weeks. I discounted her concerns. She has been right all along.

The only way to stop the spread is to prevent social interaction.

The Problem

So how do you get people to stop interacting? This is a marketing question.

Option 1 is to encourage positive behavior. This could be a message like, “Help your community and stay home!” Illinois officials tried that this weekend and it didn’t work. Most people don’t find the idea of helping the broad community very compelling.

A different message with a stronger benefit might work better, perhaps “If you stay home, we will get through this unpleasant time quickly, so we can all get back to doing what we enjoy.” This has potential, but the problem is that delivering the message would be costly and difficult. We don’t have the resources.

That leaves Option 2, which is government regulations. When you can’t get people to behave correctly, you have to force them to do it. This is the role of government; to take on some of the community tasks that otherwise wouldn’t get done.

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker laid out the logic yesterday in his press conference. “I tried earlier this week to appeal to everyone’s good judgment to stay home, to avoid bars, not to congregate in crowds. It’s unfortunate that many people didn’t take that seriously. The time for persuasion and public appeals is over.”

The Outlook

So get ready for lock-down. I’m in the office today getting the files I’ll need to teach in the spring quarter. I’m the only person here.

Order some books and buy some games. Not to encourage hoarding, but go buy some pasta.

The impact of all this will be devastating, especially for people who live paycheck to paycheck, businesses with debts, investors, medical professionals. There really isn’t much upside to be found.

Eventually we’ll venture out – and most businesses and people will make it through. But not all.

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