“Covid-19 Death Toll is Like 5 Boeing 737 Max 8 Jets Crashing Every Day:” Crisis Communications Tips to Land Analogies

By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC

Crisis communications surrounding Covid-19 has been difficult. Why is it that you can put a medical expert in front of the media and they have difficulty landing your crisis communications message?

From a communications standpoint, it comes down to: 

  • facts
  • passion
  • outrage, and 
  • fear.

Before reading this blog further, watch the INTRO to the video which describes the disclaimer, my personal bias, and my personal goal for putting out this message:

Now, imagine if a medical expert got on television and made the impassioned plea below: (Note, the entire plea is demonstrated in today’s video for training purposes.)

“The daily death toll from Covid-19 in the United States is like five Boeing 737 Max 8 jets crashing every day and killing everyone on board.

Think about this. Governments around the world were outraged that 346 people died in two crashes of 737 Max 8 jets. Governments and airlines banned the planes from flying because 346 people died.

Yet here we are, in the middle of a pandemic, and there is no outrage when the number of people who die each day in the United States is equal to five jets crashing each day. 

The number of people who have died since the onset of the pandemic in the United States in March is equal to 750 jets crashing and killing everyone on board.

As a country, would we sit idly by if five jets crashed every day? 

As a country, would we be outraged if 750 jets fell out of the sky and killed 150,000 U.S. Citizens?

We would not stand for it.

If terrorists shot down five jets every day in the United States and killed 1,000 people, would we not declare war?

If terrorists killed 150,000 U.S. Citizens over five months, would we not mobilize every bit of energy we have as a united nation to stop them from taking one more life?

So then why is it that we are okay with letting 1,000 U.S. Citizens die every day from a disease that we can fight and stop?

So then why is it that we are okay with letting 150,000 U.S. Citizens die in five months from a disease that we can fight and stop?”  

©2020 Diversified Media, LLC

(…and scene.)

(Footnote: An Axios poll release while I am writing this says 30% of Americans believe the numbers I just used from the CDC are inflated.)

The opposing viewpoint has been effectively using the analogy that says:

“Covid-19 deaths are no different than the deaths we see every year from the common flu.”

The second analogy about the flu has stuck with about one-third of Americans, according to polls.

Here are three reasons why one side has been more successful in messaging:

  1. Medical experts are trying to sell scientific facts.
  2. Medical experts are failing to sell compelling fear or outrage.
  3. and #3 … and this is a big one… those with opposing views have done a better job of getting out front with their own analogies first.

And I’ll add this point to number 3 — Those who have been selling their analogies better, have sold them as a dismissive message to an audience that is usually motivated by fear. In other words, people who are normally motivated and inspired by fear are being told, “You have nothing to fear.”

— Now before you start wondering if this blog is motivated by my politics, the answer is no. For more than 25 years I’ve worked to share crisis communications strategies with you and this is just one more lesson.

It should be noted, that in most crises, there are not two opposing arguments. For example, when a jet crashes and kills all 200 people on board, the President, members of Congress, Governors, and elected officials are not standing in front of the media saying,

“It’s just one jet. More people die every day from the flu than died in that airplane crash.”

So no, this is not a blog that takes sides on the issue because of politics. It is a blog about how to be effective in your crisis communications.

Where did my airplane crash analogy come from? Recently on a television news program, a doctor was trying to use the analogy, but he failed to land the analogy. The doctor failed because his delivery of the analogy lacked passion, fear, and outrage.

So here are the realities as I write this on July 26, 2020:

  • Many passenger jets carry 200 people.
  • The 737 Max 8 was pulled from service after two crashes killed 346 people.
  • Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. at this point have reached daily death tolls of 1,000 people.

In conclusion:

  • Analogies are a great way to communicate.
  • Analogies that tap into fear and outrage can be more effective.
  • If you use analogies, you must sell the message with passion and outrage.
  • When your analogy is compelling, others will use it.

We’ve watched the viral spread of the analogy that Covid-19 deaths are no different than the flu. Let’s watch to see if the analogy about the airline crash takes off.

Crisis communications and media training expert Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC is based in New Orleans. Organizations on five continents have relied on him to write their crisis communications plans and to train their spokespeople. He is the author of “Don’t Talk to the Media Until…”

More crisis communications articles:

Covid-19 Crisis Communications Webinar Recording

The Biggest Lie in Crisis Communications

4 Steps Every Company Needs to Take in Order to Avoid the Default Spokesperson

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