What have I learnt about the advertising from COVID-19 denialists?

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The coronavirus, accompanied by lockdown, has influenced us in different ways. We have changed our way of living, our routines and habits. New challenges appeared at work, in everyday life and in the financial sphere. For me, it was no different. I also had to switch to remote work and team management, and somehow compensate for the lack of physical presence of other people. Although this may sound ridiculous at first glance,  but one of these ways was to join Facebook groups led by people who disagree with the dominance of COVID-19 narrative.

Author: Pawel Loedl, chief strategy officer, VMLY&R Poland

Things that were mentioned there, were connected to the civil liberties limitations: low harmfulness/mortality of the virus, and thus introduced (according to these people - irrational) restrictions aimed at reducing the infectious rate and stopping the paralysis of the health service. And also, the spectre of a mandatory vaccine. It was this last element that can be identified as a key moment, a flashpoint for this type of group. It attracted people who had already spoken out for the abolition of universal vaccination.


As time passed, more and more threads were formed in groups about what and who really stands behind COVID-19. Quickly appeared what we already know - Soros, the Masonic Lodge, corporations controlling everything and everyone, the danger of 5G technology, but also new topics such as Bill Gates as the incarnate devil, who not only predicted a global pandemic (accidental? I don’t think so!), but has a plan to limit the number of people in the world. A very interesting apogee of these thoughts was probably the moment when Adam Małysz, the hero of every Pole, announced that the medical examination showed the presence of a virus in his body. At one moment he turned from a great athlete into a traitor who fell ill with "asymptomatic disease”.

To be honest, initially, my motivation was to laugh and mock these ridiculous opinions (it was really hard to take them seriously) and their forms of expression. And while still the reception of this content is accompanied by a smile, the longer I had the opportunity to observe these groups, the more often I tried to understand what are the reasons for such an action, what mechanisms and behaviours support them, and what it actually means. I stated that if they work so effectively and are undoubtedly very persuasive to a wide range of people, they will probably work in other situations as well, including communication. 

So I've listed some of the most important / most visible one:

  1. Strength in the group - a known truth, or at least written by Le Bon in "The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind", already in 1895. Consistently true and visible especially in groups organized around a common ideas/beliefs. The sense of belonging and the fact that we are not alone in our opinions makes us feel even more confident to go further, to radicalize and to set boundaries: we versus them. A lot of people entered the groups that strengthened this feeling - ridiculed people from outside who are fooled by the "virus" propaganda (for example, by observing the recommended security measures such as putting on a mask in public places), but also encouraged to meet, manifest together their opinions.
  2. Short sells - people who denied the presence of coronavirus, and were afraid of the threat of compulsory vaccinations, most often used headlines, catchy slogans that at first sounded very convincing. However, they did not want to explore the subject on their own, look for facts, they were guided by what someone else wrote, who seemed credible to them (such as the "Swiss doctor" page often sent among the group members). So if the news title was "Coronavirus mortality much lower than other known epidemics" then it was enough to say: "See, there is nothing to be afraid of, a common cold, and the government imposes such a large restrictions. For what? It is suspicious”.
  3. Cherry-picking - this is associated with a phenomenon well known from political disputes. As a reminder: cherry-picking is the process of collecting evidence or statistical data in such a way that the information presented agrees with the beliefs of the person carrying out this process. In short: I choose from the data what suits me best. So „coronavirus has low mortality, yes, but I won't say high infectivity”. It makes it easier because it simplifies receiving information and closes any discussion. There is no grey area, no nuances in this world, there is only white and black.
  4. Leaders - as everywhere, the need to have natural or selected leaders appeared here quickly  as well. Both, from the members of the group and political forces (which was supported by the upcoming presidential election). The functions of group leaders were primarily a substantive issue: collecting data, evidence, reports that favoured and credited narrative of the group, as well as the mobilization issue: organization of meetings, demonstrations and other elements that were to improve the group's „visibility".
  5. Being anti - negativity was rising here not just because these people "don't believe in the coronavirus," but can be compared to a youth rebellion when we want to be heard and seen. The common part of these people is that they were systematically ignored, sometimes even being mocked by others, public opinion or the media. They felt that COVID-19 is another such a moment - most people say „A”, but they never understood us, so there must be some „B”. Coronavirus has entered the narrative that was already in force - the greats of this world are looking for new ways to control ever greater groups of people.

Why am I writing about it? There are several reasons. First of all, it is worth looking at the world around us for mechanisms that have worked, continue to operate and can be continued with a high degree of certainty. We talk a lot about new trends, tools, applications, ways and indeed, we do have much more communication possibilities than ever before and we should know how to use it effectively. However, homo sapiens appeared in the world around 150,000 years ago, and even earlier we had other representatives of species similar to the present human. The fact that only a few years ago nobody used Tik-Tok, and now almost a billion people use it, has not changed our needs, fears or aspirations - these have been recorded and formed for thousands of years and will probably remain for a long time. Although the environment and the context changes, we generally stay exactly the same. Second of all, it is good to look at the mentioned above mechanisms and insights as they could work similarly in other areas of communication, even commercial.

And it is worth getting out of our bubble - both marketing and advertising, as well as society. Search for new contexts, try to understand other people, look for new ways to reach. This is the most interesting part of our work. Communicating products or services "to yourself" would be terribly boring and not progressive in any way.

But please, don’t believe in conspiracy theories, check the facts and take COVID-19 pandemic seriously.

Author: Pawel Loedl, chief strategy officer, VMLY&R Poland

Fotografia: unsplash.com