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


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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