Do’s & Don’ts of brand communication in times of COVID-19 concerns
While India takes the first real wave of the Coronavirus pandemic, misinformation is still prevalent amongst the public. Try asking your local shopkeeper or a rickshaw driver as to how much does he really know about the pandemic. Most of the answers will reflect ignorance, with a misplaced belief of “Hamein kuch nahi hoga” (Nothing will happen to me).
With people still unaware as to how serious the issue is, we have seen some politicians and brands make bizarre statements such as using cow urine to protect oneself from the virus infection, or a brand like Arihant pushing, what it claims, is an “anti-Coronavirus” mattresses.
When opportunistic advertising bombed
On the other side of the spectrum there are brands that are doing some interesting, informative and light content that have been appreciated. Awareness and the right spirit are what these creatives talk about amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. Brands like KFC and Taco Bell have also communicated the precautions that they are taking not only for their customers, but also the staff.
Here are a few creatives that caught our eye:
During such a crisis, communication of the right information is key as precaution is always better than cure. Brands and advertisers do have a certain responsibility to spread awareness and the right spirit amongst their consumers. It is very important to check the tone of the communication, its intention and what does it give to the consumer at the end of the day. Talking to experts of the industry – Himanshu Manglik, Founder, Walnutcap Consultancy; KV Sridhar, CCO, Nihilent; Angad Singh Manchanda, CEO and Co-founder, Chimp & Z Inc; and Premkumar Iyer, National Operations Head, Gozoop – Adgully has created a list of Do’s and Don’ts for brands and advertisers and brands to keep in mind while creating a communication strategy in the time of such a crisis.
- Positive communication to add value to consumer’s life
- Use scientifically backed information while communicating with the consumer
- Be sensitive and responsible with what is being communicated
- Brands should focus sharply on core values
- Listen and reflect before communicating
- In the right spirit, humour or light content can help push up spirits of the consumer
- Do not capitilise on fear and panic
- Refrain from anything controversial or insensitive
- Do not overstretch the brand promise
- Do not pretend to be an expert and jump into every trending topic
- Do not tailgate other brands
As the virus spreads to various parts of the country, the fear and anxiety level in people is becoming more prevalent. During this time, not all brands can offer solutions through their products. So, what should the communication in a time like this be like? Premkumar Iyer said, “Whether or not the brand can contribute to safety from the virus directly through our product, we do have a duty towards humanity. Brands should use this time as an opportunity to build a connection with the audience and help spread awareness around precautionary measures.”
He further said, “With context to the current situation, all brands should talk about social distancing and sanitization protocols that can help minimise the spread of the virus.”
KV Sridhar calls this a time of responsibility for brands and advertisers, rather than a time of opportunity. He remarked, “It is because of people and the consumers that the brand exists. The people should come first now and brands should take up the responsibility for spreading correct information. Looking at it as an opportunity means you are making money of off someone’s sorrow and that isn’t something a brand should ever do.”
We see many brands that don’t make products that are solutions for protection against the virus, take the humour route of in an attempt to lighten up the mood of the consumers and fight against the anxiety the crisis has created. However, as the seriousness of the situation aggravates, the line between humour and bad taste keep reducing. While a brand might have a certain positive intension behind their communication, it might just offend or upset certain sections of society, especially those most affected by the pandemic.
According to Himanshu Manglik, “Humour is a potential approach to lift spirits and reduce fear. Yet it is a dangerous path to tread. Creative impatience could easily end up making people laugh at clumsy ongoing efforts or trivialise the situation in the efforts at humour. It is not easy.”
Citing the example of a recent creative by Amul, Manglik said, “The recent Amul ad, ‘Wahan se yahan le aaye’, on the return of Indians from China is a case in point where Amul almost crossed the line. It comes across as force fitted and though there was no harm done, it could well have been avoided. Perhaps it went through because India was yet to wake up to the severity of the Coronavirus that was unveiling. The lesson is clear – that you must think on your feet without crossing boundaries. Stay silent if you have to, but do not force your communication.”
During these times, it is very important for brands to continue being noticeable and keep the communication topical. As mentioned above, brands shouldn’t get into every conversation; maintaining a balance is important. As people are restricted to home, more people are using social media for longer periods now. A brand can really become the talk of the town and create a space in the consumers mind by keeping the communication positive and memorable.
Angad Singh Manchanda noted, “With the self inflicted quarantine, there’s more traffic than there ever was on social media. Interactions have quadrupled and so have impressions and reactions, this makes it one of the most digitally active times our and precious generations. Which also means there is going to be a lot of chatter on social media on the current world trends, like quarantines, corona virus and world from homes.” He further said, “There are more than enough conversations for every brand to get involved into, just ensure the communication is clean and leaves behind a positive thought process for the consumers.”
During these times, it is extremely important for a brand to keep the communication right. Right now, it isn’t really about how to benefit from this situation, but more about how can the brand benefit society in this situation. The number of cases are increasing and the matter is getting worse day by day. This time, if utilised well by brands and advertisers, can make or break the image of the brand. Spreading the right information and helping the consumer is key here while we see ourselves headed towards a situation that's bound to get worse over time.