Divorces related to the coronavirus are on the rise. In Japan, where they are called “corona divorces,” a survey found that out of 100 people, 10 are “considering divorce,” while 13 say they are “on the brink,” for a total of 23 potential divorces. If the proportion answering they “will probably consider it” is added in, the total rises to 38 people. A separate survey found that 14 out of 100 of respondents are considering divorce, while six have actually split up. That is six out of 100, or 6% of the total. The sample may have been biased, but that is still quite a figure, isn't it? In fact, the divorce rate in Japan as of 2017 was “1.70.” As a ratio of every 1,000 people in the population, the proportion is “0.17%.” In comparison, 6% seems a bit high. The majority have experienced greater communication between spouses as employees start working at home, which seems to be resulting in couples getting fed up with each other. Normally, increased communication leads to a better relationship, but Japan seems to have begun experiencing a unique phenomenon of “the less you know, the better.” Sometimes the story is about the modern-day debate over sharing household chores: “If he's at home, he can't do anything. He doesn't even think about helping.” Or it could be doubts about the other person's character: “We're supposed to stay at home in the coronavirus pandemic, but he/she goes out.” And then there's this one: “My stress is building from being at home with my spouse all the time.” This then begs the fundamental question of why they got married in the first place! As you can see, there are many patterns. We understand that being cooped up at home with no opportunity to let loose by going out, dining at a restaurant, playing sports, enjoying amusements, or so on, will build up stress. It seems that as a rule, this would be excruciating. However, violence in the home is out of the question. We also hear of increasing cases of domestic violence in Japan in this pandemic. They could at least get it out of their system by rampaging in a videogame like “Fortnite” or something...

The rise in domestic violence incidents is even more remarkable in Western countries. In Spain, consultations about domestic violence during this time have risen by 18%, while in France, police involvement in domestic violence cases has gone up by 36%. People in these countries love going out for a walk, so when they are continuously stuck indoors, their patience runs thinner. The ones who are helpless are the victims. Due to stay-at-home orders, they can't escape even if they want to. Furthermore, abusers monitor the victims not only at home, but also during the rare opportunities to go out, so that there is no time when the victim has a chance to ask for help. Under these circumstances, Spain found a way to help these victims of domestic violence that thereafter spread to France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Argentina, and the US: Mask-19.

Image : © Gobierno de Canarias

Mask-19, a play on COVID-19, was proposed by Kika Fumero at the Institute for Equality in the Canary Islands. She knew that in the past, this kind of abuse has spiked when victims are forced to spend more time with their partners due to a flood, holiday, or the like. The same phenomenon has reportedly happened in France during major soccer tournaments. In any case, the abusers spend long periods of time at home.Fumero was certain that women in quarantine due to the coronavirus would naturally suffer from a greater amount of abuse than usual. Therefore, Spain took advantage of the fact that citizens were allowed to leave the home to buy daily necessities and medical items such as masks. This moment could be the only chance for a victim, so the government came up with a way for victims of domestic violence to report their abuse to pharmacies. Everybody was in need of masks, so it was perfectly natural for people, including an abuse victim, to go buy one. However, an abuser could still follow along and spy. To avoid raising suspicion, the government asked victims to go to a pharmacy as they normally would to buy masks, where they should give their name, address, and phone number to report to emergency services. To avoid harsh retribution from a suspicious abuser, the victims could go back home and wait for help, or they could stay at the pharmacy until the arrival of the police and supporters. If a victim had no more time to lose waiting for help, it would seem she would have no choice but to use this rare opportunity to address her situation.

In Spain, there is a very high level of awareness about protecting victims of domestic violence. This service was considered a public necessity, and this sort of response had been long under consideration. When the authorities made the observation that victims placed in a confined environment due to the coronavirus pandemic would lead to an increase in domestic violence, they immediately put this program into action. The idea behind this simple approach, which allows victims to take advantage of the opportunity to report, was to coordinate with the victim to make their behavior seem perfectly normal in the midst of a changing way of life. There is no reason to expect that an abuser would know why an arrest is happening where it does. The abuser will not know who reported, when, or where. This confusion was built into how the campaign works.

In some cases, when a person is subjected to domestic violence, she may hesitate to make the decision to report after considering what will happen afterward, and this delay causes the abuse to become drawn out. Or the victim may have already decided to report, but has no idea how to go about it or she tries but it doesn't work out. Mask-19 is a fine example of making good use of timing by creating a cycle of success for victims trapped in unfortunate situations, because it provides them an impetus with a simple method for reporting, by which the victim works with the public so she can be rescued.

There is also a case from Cannes Lions we would like to share which makes good use of timing to change people's awareness and encourage them to act. “Smoking Kid” was action taken by the Thai Health Promotion Foundation (THPF) to encourage smokers to quit their habits. The foundation had been working to raise awareness against smoking for many years. It had set up 1600 Quitline, a free hotline to support people who want to quit their smoking habit, but the number of consultations, at about 7,000 a month, was no more than around 0.05% of Thailand's smoking population. Even if the THPF put out a straightforward message in an advertisement, it wouldn't reach people and the target audience would not think it applies to them. The foundation therefore came up with a viral campaign via an online video.

In the video, children who smoke cigarettes approach adults and ask for a light. The adults, surprised, start to lecture the children on the dangers of cigarettes. “Cigarettes are bad for you. Don't smoke!” “Cigarettes contain insecticide ingredients!” “Your face will get all wrinkly!” “You'll die early and you won't be able to play anymore!” “You're going to get lung cancer, emphysema, or stroke, and you'll be suffering soon!” However, the children had an excellent retort: “If it's so bad, then why do you smoke?” If these adults who are smoking could talk so glibly about the dangers of cigarettes, then they should know about them quite well. Had they heard the same thing at an anti-smoking seminar, or perhaps their family members always tell them that? While these smokers, out of genuine, serious concern for the children's health, had all sorts of things to say to make those kids stop smoking, they were unable to direct those same concerns toward themselves. “I know that, but I can't quit.” That same old refrain just sounds like a lame excuse. Just like the smokers who are concerned for the children, they likely had friends and family members who were concerned about them. If the smokers stood in those people's shoes, they would probably say the same things to themselves. In the end, the children hand the smokers a leaflet that said, “You worry about me, but why not worry about yourself?” All the smokers were dumbfounded and followed the children with their eyes as they walked away.

This online video was viewed 5 million times in the 10 days after its release and it was covered by media in 30 countries, not only Thailand. A month after the release, the number of consultations with the 1600 Quitline jumped up 40% from the previous average. One thing not to be forgotten is that although the timing chosen to make the target notice the message was like an ambush, the fact that the smokers spoke of the dangers of cigarettes themselves was like showering themselves with the power of words. It also got them thinking about their health and reminded them about their friends and family asking them to take care of their bodies.


Let's look at another example of causing a powerful change in awareness through the timing of the experience: the “Second Chances” awareness-raising campaign to encourage people in the US to sign up as organ donors. An organ donation could be the ultimate gift one could provide another person. Most people, 95%, recognize the importance of registering as a donor, but in the US, only half actually sign up. Even though they understand the issue, why do they not take action? You could say this situation is similar to the smokers in the previous case who know of the dangers yet are unable to quit cigarettes. What could be done to improve the situation and what impetus do people need under the circumstances to push them to act? This is how the “Second Chances” campaign got started.

The program is incredibly simple. By providing people in slightly different situations with an opportunity to think about the issue, they can answer the question for themselves, spurring them to action. The situation the campaign chose was when a driver gets pulled over for a traffic violation. Police officers pulled over drivers for breaking the law, then asked to check the driver's license. This is standard operating procedure. However, if the driver's license had a pink mark indicating that they had signed up as an organ donor, the police officer would hand them a “Second Chance Ticket” instead of a citation. This exonerated the driver from the traffic violation. That meant they did not have to pay a fine of $200. Instead, they received a thank you from the police officer for registering as an organ donor. In other words, the driver had been given a “second chance.” A driver may think, “What the heck is this?” But in their confusion, they gave another thought to the meaning of second chances. Then they understood: by registering as a donor, they are giving another person a second chance at life. This also instilled pride in registering as a donor and a sense of elation. That self-approval connects to confidence, which they will later tell other people about.

This campaign was run in two cities in Orange County, California on April 1, during National Donate Life Month. Later, the idea spread to other places such as Calgary, Canada. The result was that in the month when the campaign started, 110,609 new organ donors signed up in California, an increase of 38% from the same month in the previous year. The program has expanded to other cities, including Beverly Hills and Anaheim, and as well as the state of New York, and reportedly, preparations are underway to make this an annual campaign. In fact, even people who are not registered donors are given a second chance. Police officers are given a manual with a script to follow. They tell unregistered donors that they are giving them a second chance, and that they will not be punished, but instead, the officer would like the person to give a second chance to somebody on a donor waitlist. Certainly, many of them will become newly registered organ donors.

Second Chances

Both the “Smoking Kid” and the “Second Chances” campaigns were executed brilliantly through the use of excellent timing. “Smoking Kid” surprised people, while “Second Chances” created a mock experience. Thus, they produced even bigger results. Even if you persuade somebody, they may not take action. And it is often the case that even if somebody understands an issue, they still may not be able to act on it. In order to make the connection to actually doing something, you have to observe the target closely, and understand which buttons to push. At present, people's values and actions are undergoing major change due to the coronavirus pandemic. There are questions for us to ask so that we can have a clear understanding of the circumstances. What words can we use to stir people's emotions? What kinds of situations will spur people to action? What about the time, the season, and the place? Is it most effective when the target receives a message from another person? Should the messenger be a child, a parent, or a good friend? It will likely become exceedingly important from here on out to imagine these things in great detail and to create a more real and layered scene.