Myths, Memes and Covid-19 by Jules Newton, Avocado Vision

Myths, Memes and Covid-19 by Jules Newton, Avocado Vision

The Covid-19 pandemic and its effects are reverberating across the world challenging all of us in varying degrees.

While most South Africans are heeding the call to “flatten the curve” – those with access to the internet and TV able to check stats and updates on the Covid-19 crisis, are ‘staying at home’ – others are not. For those who are armed with only a basic education or a limited understanding of mathematics the phrase “flatten the curve” means nothing. And what we do not understand, we cannot act upon.

Avocado Vision, a company responsible for training over 400 000 people in basic financial education using picture-based learning materials, was really concerned about this. We know from years of experience, that people need to change the way they think about something, which changes the way they feel about it, and ultimately how they behave. So if the ‘flatten the curve’ message wasn’t finding a landing place with many South Africans, we had to find something that did. Avo partnered with Lita Currie, Director of 3 Stickmen, a company that specialises in using hand-drawn pictures, to make ‘thinking come alive’ for training.

Together we designed a communication campaign to change and influence the way people managed their behaviour and responses to Covid-19.

Taking Action
When the lockdown came into effect in March 2020, we changed tack from classroom-based learning to using mobile WhatsApp communication to speed up getting the message out about the reason for ‘staying at home’.

• We realised that we could use our large network of trainers to get the message out; our trainers have access to almost a quarter of a million people through WhatsApp from the training networks they have built up over the years.

The campaign started with distributing memes – with illustrations by Lita Currie – to combat the many myths about the disease – that it’s only white people who get sick, or you cannot get sick if you haven’t travelled to China, or that blow-drying your face will prevent it, and gargling with bleach will kill the virus and many others.

• The memes were short and impactful and were incredibly well received by our trainer partners. As community leaders in their own right, they were able to disseminate the messages widely in many languages. Their feedback suggests that the messages are working – people are changing their behaviours.

Moving Forward
Together with our sponsor Illovo Sugar Africa, Avocado Vision and 3 Stickmen are still creating new messages and communicating them.

“New myths are springing up all the time. The messages to counter these are created with love and we encourage everyone to share them. Some memes have made it as far afield as Malawi by being translated into Chichewa”, says Lita, “You never know when the right message will land with the right person and save someone’s life!”

We all share responsibility for getting the message out there and many organisations and companies have followed our lead. If you or your organisation would like to use the memes, they are available for free on the 3 Stickmen website (

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