politics

Can Oregon's Best Salespeople Convince Residents To Stay Home?

By Dirk VanderHart (OPB)
March 25, 2020 9:53 p.m.

Last weekend, Oregonians ignored warnings from top officials to stay indoors. Will the state’s preeminent sloganeers have more luck?

In a bid to impress the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic on residents, Gov. Kate Brown’s office is working with high-profile ad firm Wieden+Kennedy to craft a messaging campaign anticipated to roll out in coming days.

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The firm — perhaps best known for bestowing "Just do it" on Nike in the 1980s, but with an ever-growing array of head-turning campaigns to its name — is in the process of creating what Brown called a "creative and innovative communications plan about why it's so important for Oregonians to stay home and comply with social distancing."

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The creative work behind the campaign will be done at no cost, according to a Brown aide. The cost of pushing the public service announcements out onto television, radio, and online platforms is expected to be split between state funding and private donors. Exact dollar figures aren’t yet known.

“We know that this pandemic will require a sustained public awareness campaign in order to truly change behavior, since it will take all of us individually to make the biggest difference collectively,” press secretary Charles Boyle said.

Wieden+Kennedy, which is headquartered in Portland with offices around the globe, would not offer details on the campaign on Tuesday. The agency is consulting with Oregon Health & Science University, the Oregon Health Authority and Travel Oregon in creating a message.

Whatever that group comes up with will likely need to be forceful.

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In the last two weeks, Brown has issued a series of increasingly restrictive executive orders designed to keep Oregonians from amassing in large groups, and has repeatedly stressed the importance of remaining at least 6 feet away from others in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Friday evening, after her office had already initiated contact with the ad agency, Brown and top elected officials in Portland and Multnomah County held a joint press conference to stress the urgency of those social distancing measures.

But the message didn’t take. Images of Oregonians flocking to the coast and other natural areas over the weekend signaled that the warnings were being ignored, and spurred outrage from coastal residents.

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By Monday, pressure from local elected officials and healthcare groups for even bolder steps had reached a tipping point. Brown issued an order for all Oregonians to stay at home unless they are carrying out essential activities.

“I asked and urged Oregonians to stay home,” Brown said at the time. “On Friday night, I frankly directed them to stay home. And now I am ordering them to stay home.”

Brown's administration has already unveiled a social media campaign urging residents to "stay home, save lives."

Oregon will not be the first client clamoring for Wieden+Kennedy’s help during unprecedented times. In recent weeks, the firm has masterminded ads for an array of global powerhouses.

"If you ever dreamed of playing for millions around the world, now is your chance," reads one ad for Nike. "Play inside, play for the world."

A McDonald's campaign by Wieden, meanwhile, assures customers that drive-thrus and delivery services are still available.

“While things keep changing," says one ad, "we can still be here to take your order."

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