10 May 2020 Business

Covid-19: Fear of contagion clouds decision making for mailed print

Misplaced rumours about the spread of the coronavirus are being exploited by those wishing to move away from print on paper.

Two Sides chief executive Jonathan Tame has condemned Amex for telling holders of its American Express charge cards to switch to online billing because of the risk of catching Covid-19 from a printed statement.

Having fought against the use of greenwash statements to push consumers towards online statements, Two Sides now faces a battle against viruswash, the use of erroneous fears that an infection can be caught from printed paper.

Where print is handled frequently or in a sensitive location, a restaurant menu or poster in a hospital for example, an antimicrobial coating may be useful, but there is no scientific evidence that a virus or bacteria can be carried by paper or board.

“We are very worried that an organisation can write to its customers using Covid-19 as an excuse to push them to online statements,” says Tame. “They have done this without asking a customer’s permission and it’s a real worry because the consumer should have the choice to receive paper.”

The concern is not restricted to the finance provider. Retailers have started to reconsider how they send catalogues to customers through the post. Since Blue Planet, many have switched from poly wrap to naked mailing. Now concerns about the infection potential of unprotected paper sent through the post are causing a rethink. According to one mailing house: “Many have moved from naked mailings because they think this will be a virus carrier.”

At the start of the lockdown there were concerns that packaging from online purchases and deliveries might carry the virus, but this has been dismissed by scientists who have previously tested the ability of infections to survive on different surfaces.

The World Health Organisation was pushed into issuing a statement: “The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes Covid-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperatures is also low.”

Print, in contrast, is proving crucial to the fight against the spread of coronavirus. Signage about social distancing will be crucial to the recovery phase, and government communications have used print because of its power to achieve cut through.

Tame, however, is concerned that the crisis will be exploited as an excuse to cut back on the use of print. “In the last recession sustainability quickly became less important and use of print fell. The importance of CSR policies reduced significantly. Companies were not interested in the environment, they were only interested in commercial issues.

“The question is now whether the importance of sustainability has become embedded in companies and whether it will still be important as we come out of Covid-19, if it is followed by a recession.”

Two Sides will be tackling this and promoting the attractiveness of print media during its annual seminar, due to take place on 3 November. “We will focus on the opportunities for print in a post Covid world,” says Tame.

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Infected paper?

Infected paper?

There is almost no risk of catching Covid-19 from paper or packaging, yet companies are fearful that infection is possible and are starting to use this erroneous risk as a reason to stop sending paper statements, or for giving consumers a choice.

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