Some words used to communicate about COVID-19 more effective than others, survey shows

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Marketing and communications professionals deploying messaging about the pandemic may be missing the mark with the language they're using, as the American public considers some pandemic-related terms more serious, trustworthy or invasive than others.

De Beaumont Foundation conducted a poll of 1,100 registered voters to better understand the language Americans prefer in COVID-19 messaging that deals with behavioral change. Results were released Nov. 30.

Five of the poll's key findings:

  1. Forty-nine percent of respondents said they consider "pandemic" a "significant, serious and scary" word. Thirty-nine percent of respondents said the same about "COVID-19," and 13 percent said the same about "the coronavirus."

  2. Respondents had a more positive reaction when policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 were referred to as "protocols" rather than "mandates," "directives," "controls" or "orders."

  3. "Stay-at-home order" elicited more positive reactions from respondents than "lockdown" or "aggressive restrictions."

  4. Communicating that COVID-19 safety protocols are "fact-based" is more effective than saying they are based on "science," "data" or "medicine."

  5. More than 4 in 5 respondents preferred the term "face masks" over "facial covering."
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