How Can Policymakers Enable People To Wear Masks & Practice Social Distancing

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The COVID pandemic has made masks an essential commodity and social distancing a part of our everyday lives. But there are many people who find no motivation in wearing a mask or following social distancing. Policy Makers across the world are trying to raise awareness regarding mask usage and social distancing for safety. But while some consumers have accepted it, others have not. There is a large chunk of the population who are mask-haters and don’t follow social distancing. They are simply ignorant. What can be done to increase the motivation of such people? The following points analyze the reasons and provide solutions for it-

Shaming is not effective

People consider shaming as a convenient way of changing behaviors. Runners, beachgoers, shoppers- all have been judged for spending time outside. But public shaming isn’t the best route to take. When somebody behaves in a way while putting others in danger, we get angry or scared. FOMO on community gatherings by looking at pictures on social media also triggers a sense of frustration in people’s minds and so they resort to shaming. Furthermore, after being singled out, the group/person will not change. They would continue doing the same thing in secrecy. They may engage in closed premises meetings, in-house private parties, etc., driving the risk of infection even higher. And the problem escalates when in the event of a positive case, they will not admit being part of such secret gatherings. This increases the difficulty in tracing exposed contacts.

Not a Strict Protocol but a choice

Many states mandated their residents to wear a mask and practice social distancing in public places. But people think it invades their civil liberty or freedom forfeiture. As per the theory of cognitive dissonance, people have some beliefs which they do not want to change. They do not like being told what to do. They in turn become defensive. Policymakers forcing compliance behavior breeds mental discomfort (dissonance) that leads to outrage. Health official in Canada has received death threats for mandating masks. The world has witnessed many protests like the one in the USA  where people revolted against the policy of wearing a mask.

Therefore, instead of compelling people to wear masks, educate them that a simple mask can save their lives, tell them, it’s not about covering your body it’s about saving your life. Give them a choice and let them choose between freedom and life. This would make them feel as if they have some control over the decision, but eventually, people will choose life over freedom.

Make masks look fashionable- Hedonic element

Masks have now become a part of our everyday outfits. People do not want their boring masks to take away the elegance of their new outfit. Adding hedonic attributes to this utilitarian product would combining functionality with fashion. Including stylish elements in a mask will make them look cool. Here, the variety-seeking behavior of consumers may also come in handy. Many brands like Tjori, Vastrique, Voylla have developed masks with various cultural prints, themes, patterns, colors, and tones. Masks with attractive designs have greater demand among the youth. Thus, adding hedonic elements will discourage them to avoid masks and encourage them to style themselves in the new normal era. Glamorizing them into a fashion accessory will remove the strange factor and encourage people to wear them.

The forgetters- Nudging

Assumptions of other’s behaviors may not always be right. Sometimes one cannot anticipate the reason for the other person not wearing a mask. Where everybody forgets important things in daily life, forgetting to wear a mask isn’t a big deal. During such times, it is better not to shame them in public. Instead, nudge them, remind them through posters/ billboards, etc. After the unlock phase 2, some restaurants, malls, etc. have opened for business. Security personnel can nudge consumers at entry gates to wear masks/ follow floor marks etc. Having the interior of the restaurant set for social distancing will make them follow it. Using Integrated Marketing Communications to spread awareness, and remind people to wear masks is recommended. Increased observability of encouraging messages in collaboration with various brands will fit into the long term memory of the consumers.

Ads with Affect

Airing an emotional ad would work. For consumers who cannot be convinced by showing the utilitarian aspect can be persuaded through emotion. Using the emotional route will encourage them to act in a virtuous manner. Highlight how people wearing masks and practicing social distancing are dutiful, compassionate, and responsible. For example, The Swachh Bharat Ad where a Postman delivers letters to people on behalf of the Nation was a success because it had affect in it. Similar Ads can be aired encouraging people to wear masks. Some people also feel masks make them look weak. For such people, air an Ad where, the nation as a whole works together, strongly, dutifully, like heroes by wearing masks. Or an Ad where little children in the locality perform an act to explain their ignorant parents about the cons of not wearing a mask/ not practicing social distancing.

Dealing with Mask Haters

In an American new study by Harris Poll, 12 percent of respondents said they are “mask-haters” and will not fly again until they can do so without a mask “because of issues of comfort and convenience.” This highlights the fact that a majority of people have comfort issues with a mask. Glasses fogging up, wearing a mask for hours during grocery shopping, myths that they lower the oxygen levels, it is unbreathable, etc. make people mask-haters. Educating such customers, giving them tips regarding its usage would reduce dissonance. Similarly, raise awareness that one can have fun with friends whilst practicing social distancing, through social media campaigns. Also, showing ways to make DIY masks would raise the involvement of the consumers. After putting in all the hard work, they will definitely feel good about using it.

Attitude of People

Some people tend to believe that masks and a 6 feet social distancing do not offer the protection they claim. Such individuals think COVID will spread with or without masks. If the underlying attitude does not change, offering free masks, etc. won’t work. It is very important to take a central route in the model called Elaborate Likelihood Model.

Give people a persuasive communication, use fear appeals, and provide a strong message argument. The educative advertisements must have a strong argument quality. Attitudes formed with the central route processing will be Persistent. The Swachh Bharat mission was not a great successful event because the Policymakers simply constructed toilets all over the country. It failed to change the underlying attitudes of the citizens about open defecation. Nepal Policymakers understood this and it worked for them. Therefore, Policymakers should launch campaigns with strong message arguments.

The Policymakers should launch campaigns to alter/change this evaluation towards masks. People feel masks are uncomfortable, takes away their looks, unpleasant, and boring. They also feel that the world has survived pandemics in the past (SARS, Influenza) without all the hype about masks and soon COVID will be history too. Moreover, extroverts crave for public gatherings. The Fishbein model can be applied where authorities can find out the reason for this behavior. And apply the learning in their promotional campaigns. Launch campaigns that help in changing the existing evaluation.

For some people being in compliance with social norms is important to them. Using the attitude model (like a Fishbein Model) the Policymakers can add a referent or alter the motivation to comply with the new belief.

Relative Advantages & Humor Appeal

Other advantages of wearing a mask can also be promoted to encourage people to wear a mask. A product with multiple uses gives consumers multiple reasons to buy it. Apart from acting as a shield from coronavirus and the spread of infections, a mask helps to avoid the inhalation of pollutants and other toxic particles through filtration. Use Humor wherever necessary. For example, a funny Ad which shows other benefits of wearing a mask- Farewell to Fake Smiles, Eat Spinach as much as you want, Say Goodbye to embarrassing hellos, etc. Companies like Burger King added fun elements to promote social distancing. These interesting ads will go viral on social media, garnering a lot of attention, and remove the boring aspect of wearing a mask.

Use Fear Appeals- Prospect Theory- Remove the Positive Bias

People generally have a positive bias. The fear is low, they will only good things happen to them. This removes all motivation to wear the mask. Thus, the campaign should ensure the removal of such bias from the minds of the people by telling them that coronavirus has no race, gender, nationality, or personality. It can happen to anyone.

When individuals are afraid they’re much keener to accept anything they believe might make them a little safer. As per the prospect theory, losses loom larger than gains.

People will go to greater heights to avoid a perceived loss rather than obtaining a perceived benefit.

Give factual information imbibed with a moderate fear appeal. Show how many deaths have occurred in the absence of masks. A promotional campaign which emphasizes the fact that ‘a mistake by you will hurt your family’ can be launched and wearing masks/ practicing distancing- solution.


No doubt, the above strategies will encourage consumers to wear masks and practice social distancing. But the main takeaway is – Change the existing attitude of people and make them realize this public policy is for their own good. This attitudinal change and the fear appeal alone will prove to be the most motivating factor in the acceptance of masks and social distancing. Also, according to Behavioral Economics, the size of an incentive matters less than how it’s framed & messaged, i.e. how the government promotes the safety protocol plays a larger role. Affect appeal will help in connecting with individuals emotionally.

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