The story behind ‘Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’

Mr Cain agreed and added a line about protecting the NHS – a key policy of the Tories’ general election landslide in December. Mr Levido, Mr Guerin and Mr Cain then set about honing and refining the wording.

The following day the simple three-part message on coronavirus was born: “Stay Home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives.”

Its first appearance was on Mr Johnson’s lectern at that evening’s Downing St press conference the following evening, as the PM announced the closure of cafes, pubs and restaurants saying they must close from 11pm that night to stop the spread of the virus.

The message was pushed relentlessly by Mr Johnson the following Monday when he addressed the nation about the lockdown, followed by Cabinet ministers and their teams. In the same way that “Get Brexit Done” worked during the election and “Take Back Control” came to define the Brexit referendum, few could ignore it.

Mr Cain, Mr Levido and Mr Guerin made more tweaks. The messaging on the lectern was soon bordered by red and yellow tape, as if to signify an emergency – a far cry from the green and black messaging about washing your hands which had been prepared by the Cabinet Office.

A senior Downing St insider said the message’s potency was that it gave people “not just an instruction, but why you are doing it” adding: “It was built around the concept of emergency so people could appreciate how stark the times were. We needed action.

“The design was to take people on a journey – you must stay at home, because you are protecting the NHS and saving lives. It was less of a slogan than a direct action to people.”

Another senior Number 10 source said: “It was not really a slogan – it is shorthand for the Government’s strategy and approach. We needed people to understand that to stop the NHS being overwhelmed fewer people needed top get sick at any one time.”

Millions of radio and television adverts were commissioned and broadcast, always ending with the simple message. Tens of millions of pounds has so far been spent. The success of the campaign was startling. The numbers of people venturing out soon slowed to a trickle; public transport journeys collapsed to a fraction of what they were, and vehicle journeys fell. Advertising and marketing experts have marvelled at the success.

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