There has been much debate around the Government’s and MullenLowe’s hard hitting ‘Look me in the eye’ COVID-19 campaign.

Many feel like they are being punished, because they feel it takes a minority issue and positions it as though the majority of people are behaving irresponsibly.

Some have discussed it as though it is throwing fuel to a hypocritical political fire, saying ‘leaders are not leading by example’,  and therefore feel it is an inauthentic proposition.

Others said it is effective and the seriousness should be dialled up until it gets through to the minority of people who are not complying with Government guidelines.

Whatever your view, it is good that this has sparked a debate and people are talking about it, but will this lead to the desired behaviour change?

Government Covid campaign poster featuring one woman and two men aged around 65 all wearing oxygen masks. Text reads Look them in the eyes and them you have never bent the rules Government Covid campaign poster featuring bald black man wearing aged around 65 wearing oxygen mask. Text reads Look him in the eyes and tell him you always keep a safe distance


This campaign utilises two functions from the Behaviour Change Wheel: persuasion (using provocation to stimulate action) and coercion (creating an expectation of punishment and/or cost) to try and evoke reflection on one’s own behaviour.

But it misses the mark!  Due to the statement being an action, rather than a question, it provokes, which for too many delivers frustration or alienation.

Behavioural science and, in particular Social Psychology, tells us we could improve the effectiveness of this campaign by applying a few key lessons to it’s content and positioning:

Social norms encourage people to hold a mirror up to their own behaviour and consider this in relation to what their peer population is doing. A statement that ‘tells’ has less chance of achieving the desired action. The subtle change from a statement to a question here could be more empowering and motivational:


Could you look them in the eye and tell them you never break the rules?


Small nuances like this don’t have to compromise the overall vision for this campaign but could make a big difference to the psychological response.

Focussing on the social norm and creating social modelling around the behaviour we want to inspire. UCL Covid-19 Social Study funded by the Nuffield Foundation tells us 9 in 10 people are being Covid compliant. Therefore a change to the positioning of this campaign could also acknowledge and start with:


Most people are doing all they can to prevent the spread of Covid.


This approach is supportive and is more likely to:

1) create a positive norm for others to learn from or aspire to without alienating them

2) not frustrate the majority of the population who are being responsible

3) create cohesion and not division amongst our communities

4) contribute to good wellbeing by acknowledging the positive behaviours and thanking people for all the sacrifices that they have made.


This post was contributed by our Behavioural Insights Consultant, Dr Grainne Dickerson.

If you’d like to know more about the COVID-19 campaign work we are doing or would like behaviour change consultation for your communications, call 0113 318 3051 or contact us.