How can brands play a re-assuring role during Coronavirus outbreak


Prabhakar Mundkur, Thought Leader and an ad veteran shares his thoughts on how can brands play a re-assuring role during the COVID-19 outbreak.

When a major crisis overcomes the world there are many facets of the consumer that need to be addressed. If it is a pandemic like the Coronavirus outbreak, obviously there is the primary concern for health and if I will be affected, and what I need to do to prevent myself from getting infected. But there is another important side to this, isn’t it?  And that is the financial aspect for brands. Stock markets seem to be in free fall, interest rates are dropping – in some countries like the US close to zero. So, I am also worried about my money situation both for now and in the future. And of course, thirdly, the stress of everyday living. Running out of necessities and essentials. That then is a pretty broad landscape for marketers in general to address.

Consumer Concerns of Health

Just a few days ago in the UK, the ASA (the ad watchdog in the UK) made KFC pull out their most recent ad which had tight close-ups of people eating KFC and licking their lips and touching their faces. In India, most people would see nothing wrong with the ad.  But it was pulled out because it went against the current community guidelines for preventive measures against Covid-19. We have been told hundreds of times to keep our hands away from our faces. But for our marketing and advertising community, there was no mention of Covid-19 in the ad.  It was just a regular brand ad. Very KFC. Very finger-licking good a 60-year-old proposition for the brand. But the ASA (Advertising Standards Association) in the UK, received 163 complaints from consumers about it. Just because it was promoting the wrong kind of behavior in these troubled times.  It just shows how sensitive consumers can get.

In another Hershey’s ad consumers felt that the ad was showing socially close situations when the entire world is talking about social distancing. The ad was pulled out by Hershey’s.

What is really wrong with the two ads I have described?  Just inappropriate timing. They can run at a later date when the world is not recommending social distancing and not touching your face with your hands.

In India, we have had some socially responsible advertising around Covid-19.  Special mention must be made of the Fevicol ad which for example, recommends the community guideline for promoting social distancing. 

The Domino’s ad for example also goes according to community guidelines of avoiding ‘contact’.

In many ways this ad makes sense. Community guidelines are asking people to refrain from taking delivery at their doorsteps from couriers for fear of contamination.  In fact, the recommendation for gated communities and societies is that one should ask for couriers to leave their packages at the reception/help desk/security. The ad also asks the consumer to choose Zero Contact Delivery on their app. 

Also Read: COVID-19: F&B brands leverage Instagram to reiterate hygiene measures amid pandemic

Consumer Concerns on Financial ability

Two global brands have done a great job of reassuring consumers on the financial front. The first is that iconic brand Ford. Recognizing that people’s finances are going to be under tremendous pressure, they have refrained from the temptation of telling people to rush into a dealership to buy a car.  Instead, they are taking the understanding view that for any reason Coronavirus has affected people’s finances they are willing to lend a helping hand. Great gesture from Ford.

The other brand that is doing a great job of helping consumers is Hyundai.  Using Jeff Bridges they made a hero out of the Hyundai Assurance Program. They told consumers that they financed or leased a new Hyundai and for any reason, if they were to lose their income in the next year, they could return the car with no impact on the credit. That is a really wonderful way of recognizing a consumer need during Coronavirus.

So what do brands need to do?

Indian brands seem to be creating advertising without really understanding the community guidelines issued by the WHO and the health authorities of our country. All you need to do is study these in detail and make sure your creative passes the test of not conflicting with the guidelines.

The second is an easy one – it is to look at the ASCI guidelines.  Whether it is advertising during a pandemic like Coronavirus or otherwise it is always a good idea to see if you follow the ASCI code which can be found here.