Simren Deogun

VP Brand Solutions

What Are Social Contagions? 

In the book, The Handbook of Social Psychology, Gardner Lindzey and Elliot Aronson describe social contagions to be "the spread of affect or behaviour from one crowd participant to another; one person serves as the stimulus for the imitative actions of another."  

We’ve seen this time and time before. It explains how behaviours, actions or inactions can spread whether from person to person, online, or through mass media. Like a backseat driver, Social Contagions are the background chatter that eventually drive major shifts in culture.

Our current state of living under pandemic-ridden conditions is designing a new ‘normal’. While the clear physical contagion right now is COVID-19, it’s the social contagions that are transmitting many of the behavioural changes and trends with each day.

How Can We Define The ‘New Normal’?

At Dentsu, we’ve been working on a COVID-19 Response Center to help us understand what these social contagions are, how they are affecting behaviours in the real-world, and which trendlines they’re following.  

In Canada, we’re seeing some very encouraging consumer dynamics our initial findings. In particular, solidarity and morale growth are outpacing anxiety across the Canadian population. What this means is people are recognizing other people, groups and organizations who are being helpful and caring. 

For the most part, the social media response has been thoughtful and self-moderating against egregious bigotry; and many people are sharing helpful information. We believe these are indicators that Canadians are getting ready to settle into a ‘new normal’ and weathering the storm for a while. 

Reminding People of Their Humanity

In any strategy we develop, the key message and action delivered is always designed to remind people of their humanity.

As people consciously or subconsciously look to their leaders, their friends, and even complete strangers to guide their own actions, we must understand the essential role we play as brands and marketers.

With our ability to influence the masses, it’s important that we model a socio-cultural dynamic that we would be proud to see. 


You Are What You Eat 

No, we’re not just referring to calories! What we consume by way of mass and social media also counts. Here are some ways brands can get practical in a social environment that’s in constant flux:  

  • Be helpful – Use your influence to be a catalyst for proactive, productive and model behaviour. Help maintain the bar that’s being set by our government and public health leaders.   
  • Be clear – Any brands grabbing for opportunity will only be seen as opportunistic. Humanity first. Brand-focused goals a distant second.  
  • Be simple – This applies equally to what you do say as well as what you don’t. Be choicely and focused on the message that your brand should be delivering during this time.  
  • Work together – We may be physically apart, but we can be united in our actions to swell the uplifting social contagions.

Stay Safe. Stay Healthy.

It’s extremely difficult still to concretely answer the tough questions: how long will this last? How long will we need to isolate and social distance? How much should we change the way we run our business in these uncertain times?  

Well if you think about it, the unpredictability might actually afford us something fortunate. We know that we all still have business to manage, but now more than ever we’re being called to focus on being stewards of humanity.


Why not start with the behaviours you want to publicize. Who know, you might just spur the right kind of social contagion.