Part 2: CoronaBranding
It was a well-thought-out branding decision to call it ‘social distancing.’
Social distancing is a brand, as much as a verb that connotes a specific behavior. Like wearing a tee-shirt that says, “I Love NY” or “Just Do It,” practicing social distancing, especially when wearing a mask, confers a sense of being a member of a club of choice, in this case, the club of human beings. While conventional wisdom encourages that we’re all in this together, it can take some getting used to.
On one of the many Zoom conference calls that have become our new social milieu, an extroverted friend of mine, feeling isolated and lonely from the lockdown, challenged the term “social distance” as a misnomer for “physical distance.”
“Six feet, that’s a physical measure.” he complained. “It irks me that they’re calling it “social distance.”
“You’re right, it is ‘physical distance,’ in a literal sense.” I answered. “But it’s physical distance in the larger context of the social situations in which the Coronavirus is spread.”
He wasn’t biting. “I’m socializing with you right now just fine. It’s the physical distance we need to maintain,” he said.
“I think it was a well-thought-out branding decision to call it ‘social distancing,’” I replied.
He looked at me curiously through the Zoom screen, contemplating.
“Think about it,” I said. “It’s like the way Hollywood chooses a movie title to maximize the romance of a movie and get people to buy tickets. In addition to ‘social distancing,’ simply sounding sexier than ‘physical distancing,’ the use of the word ‘social’ as a modifier to ‘distancing,’ elevates the idea and makes it a first cousin to ‘social responsibility,’ a culturally iconic term already familiar and an idea many people aspire to. ‘Social distancing’ is about taking personal responsibility; it’s about taking control in a situation that is out of our control. It has an emotional and intellectual association absent in the word ‘physical,’ which relates only to one’s body, not their hearts and minds. And winning hearts and minds is what it will take to win this war.”
Truth be told, I was not as eloquent on the Zoom call, but it did cause me to reflect on the remarkable success and widespread embracing of the “Social Distancing” brand in a country of cats rarely herded.