Week 6 of UK lockdown
World: 2,883,603 Confirmed cases 198,842 confirmed deaths

Curated articles; observed patterns. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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My take — hope and stories

I embrace my mortality but don’t want to die. When my time comes, if I can’t upload myself to St. Junipero on Cloud, I want a good death. I don’t want to die a fool.
Some people told me this weekly review is a bit dark.
I believe it’s balanced. I try to make it as responsible as I can.
And hey, there’s a lot of comfort streaming out there.
Rewatching 30 Rock and Community are my tonics of choice…

This week made it clear: the focus on exit strategies and reopening, last week, was mostly wishful thinking. Wishful thinking, combined with large parts of the media craving a new story. Possibly one with a happier ending.

The two ‘exit reports’ linked to last week, with their long lists of measures for reopening. In a nutshell, they show just how gradual, complex and fragile that process is. With plenty of small-area experimentation, back and forth due to setbacks, reliance on testing and tracking which are still lagging…

Consequently, this week, while the reopening narrative is still going strong, by Wednesday, our expectations were being managed.

Somehow, every week, and especially on social media, some opinions and memes persist based on nothing but belief and ignorance. Even when no longer open to interpretation and with facts adding up.
Narrative fallacies / Narrative bias.

We are wired to prefer stories, and we’ll try and stick to a story that reaffirms our values even if the data against it is pretty clear cut.

‘It’s just flu with better PR.’
‘The cure is worse than the virus.’
‘Look at the numbers from Sweden, they courageously went for herd immunity and have a low death toll.’
‘What about all the people dying for other reasons?’

We’ll touch on the evidence against those along the way.

To add insult to injury, in a classic false balance, US media is amplifying voices against the lockdown there. The majority of people there know they are safer home and opening gradually. That has remained consistent as this thread of facts and polls clearly shows. Those voices are also artificially amplified by trolls and biased organisations; some seem like proper sock-puppets. We knew that last week, there’s more evidence this week.

We’re built to choose stories over evidence. The right dream can change the world. It’s a double-edged sword.

On to this week’s taxonomy…

Death Toll

A deeper analysis of the death toll is creeping into the main story. Expert data reporting connecting data sets and unpacking some of that noise.

Yes, there are more deaths than usual even after discounting the confirmed coronavirus deaths. The spread pattern of the location of those deaths suggests the majority of that bump is coronavirus related. Many people don’t get to the hospital.

FT says as much as 60% more. WP and NYT analysis is similar.

And Sweden? Well, it has a higher number of deaths per million than the US (as a whole. NY is still the worse in the world) and doing worse than other Scandinavian countries. Considering it has a robust public health system, how does that reflect on that strategy? What would happen if the UK or US tried following that? It looks like we’re lucky we didn’t.

And yes, there are other related deaths — some horrific ripple effects. The WHO chief is worried about children because many are not getting their other vaccines. That horror will wait further down the road. Together with possible hunger in Africa, you know — that Africa that allegedly won’t be hurt because it’s warm.

‘Should we sacrifice the elderly?’ ask some “rational people unafraid to ask difficult questions”. Who believe “this cure is worse than the virus”. We already are, you heartless morons — nursing homes are linked to up to half of the coronavirus deaths in Europe. WHO data.

When do you go with the story?
When do you go with the data?

At least notice that the list of symptoms has become longer.

Exit strategy / Reopening

So, is it wonder people want to hear stories about reopening? No wonder that term took over from the more clinical ‘exit strategy’.

If you don’t want to browse last weeks’ long-list scientific reports here’s a storified version from conspiracy theory hero Bill Gates. Here’s what it’ll take to reopen and build resilience for the future. Eran Yashiv’s version is similar and positive. It’s just complex to execute.

What’s going to wait outside? US unemployment is up to 26 million and could get worse than 16%. And that’s Trump’s White House speaking. The ‘real rate’ is over 20%. 20% is a round, narratable, figure. Let that sink.

The Optimists say — unlike the depression, this was self-inflicted — we ‘shut down’ and thus the bounce back will be swift.

The Pessimists say — with the smouldering crisis nature of the pandemic, it will take a long time to recover.

Four million people furloughed in the UK. Now that’s a number. How quickly will the market have to bounce for them to go back to work? If fired, would they be rehired and at what rate?

So yeah, they keep saying ‘since the great depression’, but the momentum of everything suggests that record will be broken. Or do you prefer a milder narrative?

Trump trumping trump AGAIN

His signature move. Last week’s links were unhinged. And that was before the bleach debacle! A new standard every week. The president spoke in briefings for 13 hours over the past three weeks: ‘…including two hours spent on attacks and 45 minutes praising himself and his administration, but just 4½ minutes expressing condolences for coronavirus victims. He spent twice as much time promoting an unproven antimalarial drug that was the object of a Food and Drug Administration warning Friday. Trump also said something false or misleading in nearly a quarter of his prepared comments or answers to questions, the analysis shows.’

These are election rallies. And yet, he grows increasingly bitter. His scientific advisors can speak, as long as they toe the line. His line.

Pandemocracy and change

Do we see the rise of the pandemic state? Is this an opportunity to innovate governance? Can we reframe this entire thing as some once in a lifetime opportunity? (this last one a bit old and long, but typical of the genre)

I remain a sceptic. What I do know is that as unemployment breaks records, the system is still good for the billionaires.

But you don’t have to be a billionaire, being a millionaire isn’t that bad either. For example, Disney furloughed more than 100,000 workers while keeping its executive compensation programme.

‘And here you are with your faith and your Peter Pan advice…’

At least, finally, someone made a list so we can track the heroes and the zeros.

Rushkoff says — why save THAT economy?

Closer to home: advertising/creative industry

Holding companies seem relatively calm in this excellent overview by The Drum. If you look closely, they simply delegated the dirty work to the agencies, which, in turn, will delegate it to middle-management. Those managers who are not laid-off that is. And, as explained in previous Readers, government help is creating an artificial buffer.

Adland expands and contracts with the market in milder conditions, so now?

My prediction? Sadly, once furloughs stop, early-ish into “recovery”, there will be a lot of redundancies.

And then rapid hiring about a year later. Take some solace in the fact that the secret is out. Maybe it’ll force some sort of evolution.

Yes, it’s better to spend like P&G and go through Ritson’s spring cleaning list. But what works for big resilient players with a lot of cash, won’t work for everybody. And when even Coke loses 25% due to loss of its OOH channels, what will smaller brands whose entire ecosystem is in turmoil do? They will cut. Thus ad sped hits the lowest ebb since the crash.

Hell, even Google plans cutting marketing spend by half.

WARC explains clearly in what sense this isn’t a recession like others and what can you do. Pretty solid strategic advice from what I’ve seen.

Keep an eye out for winners and losers and stay agile. Those who weren’t very agile, to begin with? Bad news. Prepare to be assimilated by the Amazborg.

Claire Beale is more hopeful. Maybe we’ll get it right this time.

Silver linings

You can take Yale’s much-lauded and scientific wellbeing course for free.

This sweet elderly couple meets by the border while taking care to socially distance.

Excellent cookery and baking courses from Bon Appetit

That’s it for this week

Let me know in the comments if I missed something worthwhile, or any other thoughts.

And BTW — damn, does this crisis set apart proper new media from the recyclers and publicists or what?

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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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