Brands need to be brave enough to produce messages like #staythefuckhome

Sixteen years ago, Denis Mamo was part of a campaign for cold tablets. He wishes its tagline was #staythefuckhome. And during COVID-19, brands should take note, he says, because we need more messages like it.

In my previous life as ECD at Ursa Communications, we developed ‘I love sick days’, a campaign for Demazin cold tablets. (For context, it was 2004, a couple of months after Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook.)

How I would have loved #staythefuckhome to have been the headline.

At the time, Codral was the market leader with the line ‘Soldier on’, a campaign that reinforced the ‘cult of work’ that was taking over the world.

So we used Codral’s strength against them. We questioned the notion of soldiering on with a simple ‘Why?’

The Demazin ad

Encouraging people suffering from a cold to be socially responsible and stay home from work was almost taboo at the time. When the campaign launched it created enough stir to gain support with a full-page article in the Sunday papers.

In 2004, Miranda Devine wrote for Fairfax papers and had a Hotmail email address

Three years later, the topic was still being debated, with Codral the bad guy. ‘Presenteeism’ (where people turn up to work sick), was a still a tough attitude to crack.

Fast forward 16 years to COVID-19, and ‘staying home’ is now the law.

It’s taken government legislation, draconian isolation restrictions and the threat of heavy fines to get the message across. (Thank you, Bondi and St Kilda.)

Now, the public is getting a priceless lesson on how the ripple effect of their behaviour impacts the community, the government, their job and their finances.

And with that lesson, punters on social media are contributing enormously to the way social distancing and isolation is communicated

The #staythefuckhome movement took off on Twitter and has its own citizen driven website. I love the absolute simplicity and audacity of it. As a call-to-action, it is undeniable.

There are many musical families making wonderfully engaging videos about social isolation, but #staythefuckhome is an immediately shareable, ‘I care the fuck about you so take notice’ piece of communication. (Could a conservative pharma company or government have approved such a line?)

In contrast, the government’s current COVID-19 campaign is very polite in its drive to force the unprecedented social distancing measures.

Yes, healthcare brands are heavily restricted in what they can claim. Scaremongering is outlawed. As is any meaningful consumer interaction with prescription brands. But maybe it’s time for a re-think.

We have a once-in-a-multi-generation opportunity right now. The public has had a shock. How they behave matters to themselves, their loved ones and the community. The door is open to leaving behind parity product claims, and instead channelling our inner Italian mayor and delivering clear, bold, engaging and memorable messaging, targeting outdated community behaviours.

It’s no longer enough to be polite. We need people to: #takeyourfuckingcholesterolpills, #donttakeantibioticsforafuckingcold, #getthefuckvaccinated, #eatfuckingless, #dosomefuckingexercise, #quitfuckingsmoking and #staythefuckhome.

Denis Mamo is the founder and CEO of independent ad agency White Space Concepts


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