From Dabur to Fevicol, how brands are staying socially relevant in the face of coronavirus
How should a brand respond in times of a crisis such as the one the world is grappling with currently? Historically, it has been observed that a swift response could alleviate consumers’ concerns and build greater trust in the brand.
Take Deutsche Bank for instance. In the aftermath of the global economic crisis of 2008, the bank boldly reassured people and about its “solid performance in challenging times”. Honda, meanwhile, deployed its Internavi car navigation system to help people driving in earthquake-hit Japan with traffic information back in 2011.
The unprecedented coronavirus outbreak has evoked similar responses from brands in India. Dabur and Pee Safe advanced the launch of their alcohol-based hand sanitisers to address the rising demand for these products which have now been classified as essential commodities.
On social media, Fevicol is encouraging social distancing with the message ‘Kal ke mazboot jod ke liye, aaj thodi doori maintain karona’. Hindustan Unilever, ITC and Godrej have announced that they will reduce the prices of their hand sanitisers. For example, the price of a 50 ml bottle of Godrej Protekt has been dropped from Rs 75 to Rs 25.
‘Milking a crisis’
There have also been brands that have attracted criticism for trying to profit from a debilitating crisis by peddling misinformation to boost sales. During the Ebola outbreak in 2014, Young Living, a wellness brand, tried selling its essential oils on e-commerce platforms with claims such as “viruses (including Ebola) are no match for Young Living Essential Oils”. The US Food and Drug Administration came down heavily on the brand, and it was forced to take off its products from online platforms.
“There is a fine line between coming across as opportunistic and constructive. Brands must not resort to scaring people into buying their products,” says KV Sridhar, founder, Hypercollective.
But that is exactly what some are doing. Arihant Mattress tried selling ‘anti-coronavirus’ mattresses, while Baba Ramdev is marketing its Giloy (tinospora cordifolia juice) as being an effective cure against the virus. Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) directed the mattress brand to suspend the ad with immediate effect.
The role of ASCI at such times becomes more important than ever, experts say. “ASCI needs to take up cases on a suo moto basis, instead of waiting for a complaint and then getting brands to withdraw misleading ads,” says Naresh Gupta, CSO and managing partner, Bang in the Middle.
In the UK, KFC suspended its Finger lickin’ good campaign that showed people licking their fingers after a KFC meal, deeming it inappropriate in the present situation. Coca-Cola Philippines decided to halt all commercial advertising and spend its advertising budget on relief measures for those affected by coronavirus.
According to Harish Bijoor, founder, Harish Bijoor Consults, “desirable and aspirational brands that don’t fall into the ‘needs and wants’ category” must assume greater responsibility and “step back from their usual communication and business strategy, and instead help in relief measures as necessary”.
The Goa Brewing Co, a craft beer brand, is doing that. The company began manufacturing hand sanitisers and delivering them to local communities when the product became scarce due to panic buying. Suraj Shenai, its founder and CEO, says the intention isn’t to commercialise the product though. “We are also letting people who bring their own bottles get a refill from us,” he adds.
Meanwhile, MX Player has launched a Data Saver Mode to reduce broadband strain on the telecom infrastructure, which is under immense pressure as a large fraction of the nation’s workforce is working from home.
Sumanto Chattopadhyay, chairman and CCO, 82.5 Communications, believes a global crisis of this kind requires a brand to create communication that informs and reassures the public. “Brands could opt to simply and succinctly convey government-approved pointers.”
The gravity of the current crisis, experts say, elicits action from brands. “Sometimes, brands choose to sit on the sidelines and wait for the crisis to blow past. However, the coronavirus outbreak has got brands of all kinds to step up and reassure consumers,” points out Dheeraj Sinha, CSO, Leo Burnett.