Pandemic Reader #3 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Week 5 of UK lockdown
2,319,066 confirmed world cases, 157,970 deaths (WHO)
Curated articles and patterns

I’m keeping on for the time being, despite strong resistance from the algorithm gods.

Please share it if you think other people in your network may find it helpful.

My weekly take — opinion volatility

Watching the recent edition of Kantar’s ‘Keeping Up’ tied it up for me this week, but let’s count from the beginning:

  1. Covid19 is a Wicked problem. Extremely multidimensional and paradoxical. One discipline cannot reflect its present or implication, let alone solve it.
  2. Much of the expert opinions, notably the long-term predictions, seem to suffer from confirmation bias.
  3. This week we’re adding another tenet — opinion volatility. Perspectives can change weekly. They will change monthly.

It’s always a good idea to be careful of quick surveys, particularly self-reported ones. Especially during a crisis, the harder things hit, the more reactive people are. That can make them swing quickly and extremely in opinions and behaviours. We should bear it in mind when we try and think of things which now are an eternity away, such as “the world after”, a total “reopening” or the US elections.

What can you do? a. Be as real-time as you can and notice the changes. b. Plan as much as you can based on the knowns. You might find it useful to ask yourself what isn’t likely to change. It’s more realistic to guide your planning based on those. (Mark Ritson mentioned this excellent quote from Jeff Bezos which is spot on). c. Notice which existing trends are being accelerated rather than focus on the new.

And now this week’s taxonomy…

Exit strategy is so hot right now but don’t let that confuse you

Another week in lockdown. We all want out, so talks of the end of it are widespread. The critical issue here is that when you dig into them, you discover how delicate some of those hopeful ideas are. But early success from Asia and encouraging slowdowns in some European countries on one side and the emerging horror of the economic nose dive on the other — means both governments and the media are keen to share exit strategies.

A Harvard-led expert group published a report. It details how would gradual reopening work. ‘A bipartisan group of experts in economics, public health, technology and ethics from across the country released the nation’s first comprehensive operational roadmap for mobilising and reopening the US economy in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.’ it piped. And as public-math-force-of-nature Vi Hart happens to be on the team, we also get this lovely, compelling and optimistic explainer video.

In the UK a Cambridge-led group identified no less than 275 ways to reduce spread following the lockdown.

So that’s a draft version for the new normal. It’s fragile and hugely reliant on testing. It also contains masses of new market friction. Can it happen? We’ll discover week by week and should expect setbacks. Here’s a more sombre look at the year ahead, but reporting science accurately in this environment is challenging. Let’s hope those record-breaking search speeds continue.

Meantime, fears increase about all the deaths under the radar.

It’s infuriating and mind-boggling, but some people still insist ‘it’s just a flu with better PR’. Listen, if you managed to get to week 5 (UK) and somehow failed to educate yourself, you know surprisingly little about Flu or PR for someone so confident.

I won’t repeat links from previous times. The bottom line is that any downward adjustments of death-toll predictions are thanks to faster adoption of social distancing than early models expected. So well done, but that doesn’t change the horror if we didn’t act quickly, to begin with, or open too early. Nasty facts about this virus still being discovered. For example, it might be more heat resistant than previously thought.

Let’s learn a little from the past, eh? As long as we don’t have treatments and cures, social policies are crucial. That was the case with the 1918 influenza (where, BTW, one of the cities that got it right was San Francisco, because it moved quickly and surely. And that just happened again.). Or look at four other pandemics and see what we can learn.

Democracy impact

When government mobilise control quickly, democracy wobbles. In some countries more than others. Some leaders are enjoying a boost that is unlikely to last. The evidence for incompetence mounts and the inquiries will eventually come. There would be no lack of horror stories and who knows what else. Nasty employers are having a great time too.

Here’s a less political explanation of why we were so ill-prepared.

Most of us can only dream governments will start provisioning people in the way they should, but here’s an initial list from openDemocracy. Or at least remember and not let them gaslight us later (this last one sent by multiple readers).

The democracy wobble is made worse by market conditions hitting the watchdogs hard. Many of them weren’t in great shape in the first place. Easily distracted for sure. In the meantime? Help if you can. For example, keep paying your cleaner.

Trump trumps himself

His one talent seems to be to act even worse than you’d expect. Last week, in particular, was a series of spins and more unhinged media briefings. Quite a few provide a masterclass in evasion that Trevor Noah unpacks, especially from 5:50 of this video.

He pushes the responsibility to the states for anything difficult and pulls anything that might make him look like the saviour. For example, for the first time in history, the relief cheques will carry the presidents’ signature.

He supports (and possibly puppeteering) protesters from his voter base that oppose his own current policies.

He went after the WHO (and it seems to work), then after China, completely forgetting that he praised them initially. The rich timeline ignoring the threats of COVID-19 is ‘fake news’ to him. The US deserves better. And still, he might win the elections.

Every week there’s an inevitable part that is about him and is horrifying to read and write. If only there was one week where he wouldn’t deserve his own section, but he probably will.

Meanwhile, the system is intact and here come the bailouts. Scott Galloway explains why it doesn’t make sense to be capitalists on the way up and treat the fat cats as socialists on the way down.

Here comes the recession/depression

With so many unknowns, here’s something we do know.

The IMF said it explicitly this week in a new report. Goldman Sachs is equally bleak. So are banks.

It’s just a question of how bad it will be. The UK added another month to the furlough scheme, which might delay the worst.

The US is bracing itself for something potentially worse than the great depression. The ecosystem for this one is different, and it’s hard to know how deep it will go. 20–40% of US Americans don’t have $400 in the bank. About 36% are gig economy workers with hardly any rights. They struggle even when things are good.

Here’s my own creative industry as an example. On the service provider side, we’re going to try and keep appearances until the bitter end. Creativepool asked a large sample of people how they feel it will play out. While 90% quickly moved to work from home (many using the questionable zoom), 50% of freelancers said they wouldn’t survive more than three months. Three in four small businesses will have to close if business doesn’t improve by September. Sir Martin Sorell predicts a blood bath in Q2. Agency CFOs estimate 20% drop.

And yes, P&G ramps up spend as they do every recession and will reap the rewards. It’s a well-known principle of marketing in a recession. But smaller clients can’t afford to, and their agencies will suffer with them. Cuts and furloughs are already gaining momentum.

It’s bleak. And it wasn’t a great period, to begin with.

But my people are resilient and creative. We’ll make it. At least the pyramid scheme that is big agency life is no longer a secret.


We can only hope it doesn’t get worse in the world’s second most populated country (and some predict soon to be the first).

The 1918 influenza killed 12 million Indians.

Vulnerable parts of its population are already suffering. Heartwrenching. And it’s hard to know how many unreported deaths are lurking. A 2 km queue for food in the peak afternoon sun of Delhi. And while, on-trend, there’s already discussion of exit strategies (potential stratification, on-brand), their graph doesn’t show signs of flattening yet.

Silver linings

Phew! You earned it!

The pandemic is making parts of USA healthier, at least while they can afford shopping.

And you can pay a charity to invite a llama to make a cameo at your next zoom call.

D&AD wants you all to stay creative in the lockdown. With lists of things to read, to watch, and to listen to. With contributions from yours truly (I facilitate the D&AD’s strategy masterclass, remote learning version coming soon)

Should you text your ex?

And of course, there’s Captain Tom.

Leading dystopia scenario

Bladerunner + Years and Years


That’s it for this week. If you think I missed something good, please post the link in the comments.

The Linkedin Pulse gods have been toying with me. It used to reward long-form writing. This no longer seems to be the case. Last week got about 80 views while my paragraph-length post about a well-known truth about marketing in a recession got 1300 (and counting). In case you don’t want to be left to this randomness subscribe here.

Strategist. Director of a boutique agency. Teaches the D&AD’s strategy masterclass and the SCA’s course in strategy. Writing between marketing and culture.

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