Going viral: How brands are realigning their communication during the Coronavirus crisis

Guest Column: Anup Sharma, Mentor, The Lentils Institute, analyses how the COVID-19 outbreak has forced companies like Corona Beer & KFC to alter their brand messaging to suit the current crisis

e4m by Anup Sharma
Updated: Mar 23, 2020 3:59 PM
Anup Sharma

The role of communications becomes very critical during the crisis. With the Corona Virus (COVID-19) outbreak brands and corporates are scrambling to craft messages reacting to the changed reality. 

Mexican beer brand Corona, which derives its name from the Sun’s corona and has nothing to do with the virus COVID-19, not only became the subject of memes and videos shared on social media but has seen its sales down globally including in India. 

Texas-based Handmade Vodka brand Tito's clarified to a viral video message warning the public against using vodka to kill germs as "Tito's Handmade Vodka is 40% alcohol, and therefore does not meet the current recommendation of the CDC."

Considering the key role social media plays for crisis management and real-time engagement, Twitter has come out with a list of key elements to ensure brands are providing helpful, beneficial information to their audience, while also working to navigate the rising disruption caused by the Covid 19 outbreak.

LinkedIn has made few of its learning' courses on Working From Home (WFH) available for Free and also created a Trending News - to provide authentic updates from bodies like World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

With social distancing becoming the need of the hour, brand Hershey has replaced ads featuring lots of human interaction, such as hugging and handshakes two men handing out Hershey bars.

While many brands are in the wait and watch mode few communicators are realigning their messaging and go-to-market strategies to the issue and sensitivities around the impact on human lives. With handwashing being aggressively promoted to curb the spread of COVID-19 virus, fast food brand KFC stopped its "Finger-Lickin' Good" campaign that encouraged people to lick their fingers after eating its chicken — something that might read as unhygienic amid calls for thorough handwashing.

Internationally a slew of brands, including retail giant Walmart and Amtrak, have sent messages to customers advising about procedures to continue operating in the Covid-19 outbreak period, others discussed cancellations. In India, Ola cabs sent communication alert to all its patrons on the necessary steps being taken to maintain the safety of stakeholders including customers, driver-partners, employees and others.

Oyo hotels started #CoronaConcierge educating travellers and the founder Ritesh Agrawal was quick to respond to a tweet suggestion to explore a tie-up with the Indian Government and offer OYO rooms as quarantine centres.

The adult entertainment site Pornhub made news by offering Italians staying at home free access to Pornhub Premium throughout the month. Tourism Estonia has started urging people to "Stay safe and stay home" with #staythefuckhome campaign. In India, we saw travel OTA platform Ixigo communicating a similar "Stay safe and #TravelLater" messaging. Taking a step further Ixigo also initiated “No questions asked” full refund policy for international flight sectors.

The founder Aloke Bajpai tweeted: "The moment of truth for customer support .... If our call centers are busy just tweet to @ixigo or me and we will be glad to help ixigoers out 24x7"

At one level brands are getting cautious on their communications and dropping / fine-tuning their messaging for fear of associating with the virus. On the other side, few businesses took the short cut of gaining attention and started communicating with unscientific claims of being ‘anti-coronavirus’, prompting Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) to take action.

 Considering that the role of leaders and institutions come to limelight as people look towards them for not only information but also reassurance and inspiration many leaders have taken to Twitter to communicate. Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma joined Twitter and in his first tweet, Ma posted photos of a China Eastern Airlines plane with boxes of coronavirus test kits and face masks slated to be shipped and donated to the U.S. from Shanghai. Google CEO Sundar Pichai informed the stakeholders reassuring Google is doing everything possible to help people take care of themselves & their communities. Manu Jain, MD of Xiaomi India made an appeal to companies planning to divert sponsorship/marketing money of #IPL for Covid-19 prevention led CSR initiatives saying Saving lives will be better marketing than risking millions of Indian lives.

(Anup Sharma is a Mentor and Senior Fellow at The Lentils Institute, a democratic sustainability think-tank and Senior Director at Public Relations Consultants Association of India (PRCAI))

 Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com

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