Major Casey Schuler: I hate this bug.
Col Sam Daniels: Oh, come on, Casey. You have to admire its simplicity. It’s one-billionth our size and it’s beating us.
Major Casey Schuler: So, what do you want to do, take it to dinner?
Col Sam Daniels: No.
Major Casey Schuler: What then?
Col Sam Daniels: Kill it.

by Siwe Lawrence (@Siwe_Lawrence) Only four months into 2020 and it feels more like seven. With most of our 2020 strategies and resolutions rearranged to align to the movie set outside our homes, it definitely doesn’t feel like the 2020 we envisioned. The above lines are from the 1995 blockbuster, Outbreak, starring Dustin Hoffman as Colonel Sam Daniels, Kevin Spacey as Major Casey Schuler and Cuba Gooding Jr as Major Salt… and the expression of “art imitating life” couldn’t be truer, 25 years later.

The outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic this year has done more than shaken us up. It’s created a new normal, that, with the right perspective, can move us to a better way of living and mindfulness.

Physical inter-connectedness

If there’s one thing that this little ‘bug’ has highlighted, it’s the physical inter-connectedness of everything and everyone. It’s also highlighted the need to zone into the micro-ness of the moments around us. The other day during our “cororo” banter, my colleagues and I started connecting the dots of the ecosystems surrounding us at work and our homes: the IT person who services all the computers at work; that one biometric at my complex’s residents entrance; that Uber Eats driver delivering lots of dinners in one night; the three taxis that one person used to take to get to their township; that car guard who didn’t only help you with your trolley but many more, long after you had left the parking lot… multiple those by all the micro-moments of hand-touching and physical contact.

As much as this could cause more anxiety than awe, I found myself awestruck at the sheer simplicity of connectedness that still exists in the offline world and the simplicity of one virus to make us more aware. Our proximity to a whole other network of people is definitely less than six degrees of separation. This means that there’s fertile ground for behavior change to break out and happen.

Life as we know it has been disrupted and our response has been to change behaviour, from fist bumps to elbow bumps. Somewhere between social gatherings to social distancing, the skrr-skrrs are having meltdowns at the thought of less “groove”.

Henry Grabar of online magazine, Slate, writes: “These changes will emerge from the total, unprecedented reappraisal of the modus operandi that is already taking place… People might stick with the disruptions to their lives, too: More deliveries taking the place of personal trips. More cooking, and less eating out. More driving in solitude — or, optimistically, biking — and less reliance on Uber, Lyft, and transit. Therapy, yoga, and medical advice online. More video games; less live entertainment.”

Small businesses

Another layer of this inter-connectedness is that all of the above changes are connected to some sort of business or service provider. Small businesses are starting to buckle at the effects of the outbreak, mostly because most business models depend on people being able to gather in some way.

Our Department of Small Business Development announced an estimated R1bn in support packages to assist small-, micro- and medium-sized businesses, but one has to consider how small businesses such as photographers and event planners will have to be more agile in shifting their services to provide for a socially distanced and less-travelled population.

Henry Grabar also writes: “Companies might emerge with a revised, stricter sense of what kind of travel is really essential to business. Perhaps we’ll build more resilient, local supply chains.” That thinking is not only going to change the entire structure of things within China but also the global fabric connecting China to the rest of the world. Your “Made in China”s may convert into more “Made and distributed in Gauteng/Durban/etc”s. A little ‘bug’ has done that.

The above examples of changes in behavior create new opportunities for marketers and media buyers to engage with audiences. Despite the forced behaviours of social distancing, working from home and a reduction in travel, audiences still need to be connected, entertained and informed. Media buyers are probably seeing a decrease in things such as taxi-rank dwell time, listenership on morning- and afternoon-drive radio, or a reluctance to accept samples. Depending on the forced behavior, we’re seeing an increase in terms of time spent on social media, meeting platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, food delivery apps and sites, Netflix, podcasts, news sites and an increase in specific searched words or topics. The question to then ask is: How are we changing our approaches to campaign to align with what media buyers are informing us about?

Col Sam Daniels: You know, Salt, fear gets a bad rap. I don’t want anybody in my outfit that doesn’t get scared.
Major Salt: Then I’m your man, sir.


Fear right now seems to be our biggest adversary but what if we are the victors in all this? If you think about it, any country’s economy is only as good as its people’s health. Traditionally, a good economy consists of more-productive and critical-thinking human beings. The definition of a good economy may very well shift to also being about cleaner human beings, which contributes to a cleaner planet.

According to recent observations by NASA, nitrogen dioxide pollution (associated with cars, trucks, factories, and power plants) fell by as much as 30% in heavily industrialised eastern China during its lockdown, purely because of the increase in working from home and the drastic decrease in travel and automotive movements outside of the home. A little ‘bug’ has done that.

Right now, the interconnectedness of everyone is positioned as our demise but collective changed behavior towards living better certainly sets us far from failure. Could a virus actually change the way we think about a globalised world in years to come? Sure, it’s one billionth our size but you got to admire the simplicity of this little ‘bug’ in making us break out of our old ways, and into a new normal.

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Siwe ThusiSiwelile Lawrence (née Thusi) (@Siwe_Lawrence) is a qualified South African chartered-accountant-turned-senior-strategist at M&C Saatchi Abel; she’s also a working photographer and writer. Since mid-2015, she’s been in strategic planning, working on some of South Africa’s big brands in different categories and industries in the ATL and digital spaces. Siwe contributes the regular column, “An Accountant in Adland — exploring the fluidity of the disciplines and other themes like film and music that influence our lives — to

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