Mask, Positioning, Branding, Desire and Necessity

Positioning, in a limited way, is about perspective change. Brands succeed by re-orienting consumers to look at things in different manner. By doing this brands gain desirability. The key idea is to kill tendency to view a thing in generic manner. Consider a brand like Mont Blanc: is it a pen or something else? For reflection generated eye image it certainly is a pen but its interpretation in mind is not. This renders Mont Blanc a highly desirable pen not for its writing superiority but for the idea it ‘stands for’.  This is the result positioning.

Now consider the masks that people are urged to wear to protect them and prevent the spread of Covid 19. The challenge is how to make people follow the protocol. It may be necessary but for many it is not desirable. It is necessary for bikers to wear helmet for safety but do they do so voluntarily? How necessary is drinking single malt whiskey and how high do people pay for it ?

Helmet is stuck in ‘to be avoided’ product frame and Single Malt ‘to be had’ frame.

Positioning is about relativity. What category is a brand made to stand in ‘in relation to’?  Consider common salt, sodium chloride how its perceptions vary depending upon its location:

  • Sodium chloride in a lab: it is a chemical compound
  • Sodium chloride in pharmacy: it is medicine
  • Sodium chloride in kitchen: common salt
  • Sodium chloride in chef’s kitchen: taste maker
  • Sodium chloride in factory: preservative

This location based generic perception commoditization and pull is entirely likely to be need or necessity based. But positioning is empowering. A product can be placed in a perceptual space different from location oriented perception. Remember Mont Blanc is a pen but in perception it is established in ‘relation to’ accessories territory used by consumers to convey their identity, ‘who they are’. This makes the brand highly desirable. It chooses to operate in higher order orbit. Similarly some people ‘cultivate’ taste (disliked taste- sacrifice) to belong to category that Single Malts operate in.

So what is challenge for increasing adherence to mask wearing protocol? Consider mask’s positioning in ‘relation to’:

  • Mask in ‘relation to risk’ (doctors, industrial sites, pollution): in this scheme, masks are located in their generic territory of protective gear. It is likely to appeal to risk avoiding thinking centric (high on cognition) group of people. The appeal of mask lies in its functionality, the protection.
  • Mask in ‘relation to identity and expression’ (site of fashion, life style and statement): this would require inhibiting masks from getting into generic territory and planting or placing alongside conspicuous things. The conspicuous things are typically deployed to make the invisible person visible (self expression/ symbolism) and satisfy desire for belongingness. This however would require product modification (mask designed as accessory, not looking like a typical mask) and communication context of use (fashion/ dressing up/life style/ attitude).

What do you think a Rolex is? Is it a watch? Those who perceive it as a watch are not its customers and can never be. Have you seen people wearing the Cutter and Wayfarer (Rayban) wearing indoors: out of necessity (shades to ban ultraviolet rays) or desire (to let others know who they are). Mask needs to break away from the narrow boundary of protection to becoming object of desire. 

Did My Brand Betray Me? Did It Act Self Centered? Brand in Times of Crisis

The concepts of ‘I’, ‘Me’ and ‘Mine’ are central to consumption. From these emanates foundational assumption of consumer rationality of choice. This means consumers are guided by self interest and pursue it in their choice of products and brands. Brands are judged against these objectives and values and choice is guided by maximization principle. Consumers are assumed to be utility/ want/pleasure maximizers. So which detergent gives better whiteness Tide or Rin, better fairness Fair & Lovely or Fairever, better personality fit Harley or Ducati?

The question arises – does Covid 19 pandemic and resultant confined existence have had any perspective altering effect on people? Did pictures of hunger, migration, and suffering not shake self obsessed, self centered evaluation of things around? Did it foster reflection on Thomas Scanlon’s idea of ‘what do we owe to each other’? Did it create mindfulness towards the plight of others? Did it make us unreasonableness in the exclusive pursuit of self interest?

Probably yes. It is human to be empathetic. It’s good to be sensitive to others. The exclusive dedication to self interest and promotion is reductionist. It is animal like. The humanitarian and existentialist crises created by the pandemic could re-orient people to be sensitive to ‘others’ from an extended perspective of humanity. The insular thinking and dominance of self interest has perhaps been visited by consciousness and conscience. Not everybody is prone to be impacted equally. Tragedies and trying times are also times of reflection. They are disruptive. The ideas and ideals and their validity is reassessed from an extended perspective. Here was an opportunity to look at things from narrow confines of ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘mine’.

What, in this situation would be expected of brands? Brands are anthropomorphized (given human like character, Marlboro man) and animism  (attribution of soul to an inanimate thing) is used to extend their perception beyond ‘thingness’ to ‘humanness’. Relationship is a human thing, and brands forge  relationships with their consumers to expand their mutuality beyond pure rationalistic-utility centric dimension (usefulness and its corresponding price)  into subjective psychological, social and spiritual axis (care giver- J&J, protector-– Good Kinght, trustworthy- Tata, playful partner-Manforce). The relationship implies connection and flow. What would consumers expect to flow from brand in the times of existentialist and humanitarian crisis: indifference or action?

Here was an opportunity for product and corporate brands to expand their territory into higher realm of goodness. How many corporate and product brands were at the forefront in alleviating suffering from migration, hunger, displacement and illness? Why is it that doing good (which essentially means other-centeredness, benevolence, compassion, empathy) is not perceived to make good business sense?  Does it deliver poorly on return on investment? Is basing brand building on fundamental human values not a good strategy?

Who wins respect, trust, loyalty and love in human relationships? History shows people have always rallied behind essential goodness or just cause. They gathered, suffered and even scarified their lives for people who stood for good cause (Martin Luther King, Mahatama Gandhi). Goodness has some invisible pull. It touches core particle of the material that humans are made of. If goodness is sought and valued in human relationships, would it not be sought from brands who try to be our partners in life?

A lot can be learnt from religions of the world. The religion-follower bonding (often fanatic like) does not emanate utilitarian discourse but from precise opposite of it- extracting surrender to the idea of goodness. It explains why people associated with different religious organizations were at the forefront of serving humanity even at the cost of risk of Covid 19 infection. Did acts of policemen helping the helpless touch deeper chords in heart? Did the acts of care by doctors and other staff not make eyes moist? Answer is yes.

How do you feel about the brands who remained bystanders to the crisis? Is it a sense of betrayal?

Tom Hanks, Cast Away, Confinement, Brands and Consumer Behavior

To many, my comparison of Covid 19 lock down confinement with Tom Hank’s being marooned on an uninhabited island may seem unfair but in many ways we all have had our Cast Away moments.

Locked within the boundaries of our homes a big part of what we call as ‘Me’ and ‘Mine’ seem to have either vanished or got pushed into background. Like Chuck Noland, the confinement has a stripping effect on different identities and identifications and identifiers on which marketing relies to make consumption going. Things portrayed as core or essential in consumer’s imagination were scrutinized and reassessed for their real role in the now hugely curtailed ‘area’ or ‘Kshetra’.

Like Chuck Noland’s solitary life on the island, days are now about searching for means of survival like food, water and shelter for the poor. But for some well endowed and rich people, confinement means struggle to find ways to survive without what may be called ‘imagined’ necessities.  However, for many it has been an opportunity to take a relook at consumerist urges and real relevance of things in life. The narrowing of physical, emotional, social and identity spaces (kshetras) and consequent insulation from measurements on scales of good life is an opportunity to assess things considered normal:

Physical: being physically confined and not being able to move through areas of hyper stimulation (roads, markets, office) may lead us inwards into inquiry about questions about our ‘essence’ ‘purpose’ and ‘journey’. The forced quiet may lead many of us to yearn for meaning alternate to what is constructed in the consumerist narrative and realization that we are not what we own or possess. Brands have to demonstrate that are not simply means of providing utility rather they have essence beyond the contents of package.

Emotional: use of emotions like fear, greed, envy and pride is as old as marketing communication is. But what happens when an invisible and invincible Corona virus lurks everywhere in air, on people, surfaces, vegetables, newspapers. Concerns relating to not looking good or not having a bigger car pale in comparison to a threatened existence. It is a return to the need for safe and secure existence at the most basic level. Covid 19 showed how brand based discrimination took back seat and was replaced by basic concerns to secure food and other  necessities notwithstanding the signifiers on them. Amidst insecurity people bought as much as they could to hoard for the days to come.

When the fight became about survival, we saw how concept of neighborhood or brotherhood became irrelevant. The fight here is no different from Chuck Noland’s hunt for fish and coconut for survival. Brands are supposed to have relationships like people have with each other. Did we see brands and their stewards missing from action in assuring and addressing their consumers’ fears and insecurities in their most vulnerable state? Did we see brands in empathetic role towards their consumers?

Social: Chuck Noland in Cast Away was all alone on an island; accordingly there was no other individual to measure his achievements against on yardsticks of success. How do people measure their life and whether these yardsticks are of our own choice or are these subtly planted in by consumption centric narrative of brands? Being social gives rise to relativity of positioning on scale of ownership/possession which in turn becomes the basis of our realization of need for belonging, pride and esteem. The material world is pushed into pivot around which we as consumers are trapped in unending cycle.  Life is reduced to outdoing each other on things defined as ours which in turn define our sense of identity.

What effect did the lockdown have on people? Suddenly all the deployments of scoring relative superiority and differentiation lost their potency. The reduction of social circle within narrow confines of home with intimately known members may have led to realization of irrelevance of the need for external validation. The social networks may not be able to lend themselves in play of games of pride and esteem. Does this period of lockdown make us realize the absoluteness of self/soul, and irrelevance of living life on basis of comparisons? The consumers could develop sense of seeing through the ploy brands use to fuel greed and envy to make money. It may endanger change and alignment in buying criteria in favor of basic or no-logo things.

Identity: The Gita gives the distinction between real and false identity. At the heart of identity are the questions ‘who am I’ and ‘what is its meaning’ and ‘what is its purpose’. In the consumerist discourse the notion of identity is constructed around ‘body’ and its belongings. The house, car, watch, clothes, farm belong to body around which our identity is constructed with dimensions such as gender, ethnicity, clan, language, nationality, education. The Gita on the other hand draws attention to the dweller of body which is real identity, the soul. It is absolute and eternal.

The confinement may have forced many consumers to think about themselves in different ways than we are conditioned to. With identifiers losing their significance and realization dawning about the finiteness of life, it is likely to orient people to engage in deep thinking, stripped of material concerns. The falsity of identity based on possession does not seem to help. The expanse of our ‘aham’ constructed on material things is suddenly rendered false. We are nothing more than a speck of dust. For many, confinement became an opportunity to expand understanding of what we call life and its meaning. The question arises as to how deeply would these thoughts alter consumers? If this realization is durable, consumers would connect better with brand with purpose.  Brands that thrive on envy appeal may lose connection with consumers who no do not want to compete on scale of relativity. A sense of detachment with ‘possession’ that we call ours may foster consumer identity that celebrates minimalism.

Covid 19 and consequent lockdown has twisted of the imagination of many. It may have triggered a journey inwards into search of answers to questions that require deep thinking. The lockdown probably has had effect on altering consumerist orientation which is thought to be a fundamental driving force. But existential crises unleashed by Covid 19 could force reassessment of value of things that are marketed as integral to modern life. The question remains how durable this impact is going to be.

Wearing Mask, Covid 19, Masculinity, Beauty, Identity and Different Meanings

Behavioral modification is difficult if not impossible to achieve. Brands often suffer from delivery deficiency not on account of their performance but because of improper use. Users simply jump to use a product without reading instructions. In some cases people know what the instruction is yet but base their behavior on subjective judgment (like instruction says use 50 ml of water but consumer uses a quantity that is perceived to be 50 ml is without measuring it). In the other case a user may generalize use behavior to a dissimilar object under perception of similarity (cooking rice with rice cooker assuming it works like pressure cooker).

Covid 19 is here and in the absence of medication the only strategy to deal with it is prevention. One of the suggested methods to reduce its spread is to wear mask and maintain physical distance. Both of these preventive behaviors apparently do not involve high economic cost yet observational evidence shows people on the streets either don’t wear masks or use them reluctantly. This resistance to put on   an effortless gear could be dismissed on account of pervasive stupidity. But it may not be so. What lies behind the mask in the mind of the wearer has to be understood. To the observer a mask is a mask, a piece of clothing cut into a shape with stapled elastic band on the sides. A mask is certainly nothing more than cloth, elastic band cut and stitched into a conical or rectangular shape as a product to a producer but for its user it is much more.

Product in factory may start with a singular meaning but as it moves into a social system it begins to become a multi-layered entity. Things are viewed from psychological, social and cultural angle. This extends their meaning making them either object of desire or disdain or refrain. Consider different layers of product meanings:

Physical: a mask at physical level as mentioned previously is a combination of protective cloth, stitching, shape, elastic band and color. Physical dimensions are measurable.

Feeling: feeling is sensory discernment like a surface may feel hard or soft or grainy. Wearing a mask feels suffocating, harsh on skin, produces itchiness.

Psychological: it relates to emotional and intellectual state of mind. This level of meaning throws a mask into subjective (not physical) psychological realm that includes cognition, emotion, conscious and subconscious response. Intellect (facts), cognition or reason does knowing, analyzing and categorizing. Correspondingly it serves to activate emotions through connections stored in memory. Brand/products tap into human desires like for love (Cadbury), happiness (Hallmark), esteem (Mercedes), security (LIC), power (Bullet), and belonging (Lux). The question arises what emotional reward does wearing a mask provide? Ideally it should tap into basic need for safety and security but people just don’t seem to bother. It probably requires sharp and penetrating communication. If not wearing Gillette after shave can prevent you from being ‘the best you can’ or being the man (Old Spice) then why can’t not wearing a mask rob you of life. It is a matter of communication and positioning.

Cultural: it includes several aspects related to a society including values, beliefs, hierarchy, language, customs and roles. One such aspect relates to gender roles and aspects of masculinity/femininity. To hide behind ‘make up’ or ‘veil’ or cover face in public is linked with feminine identity. Further, covering face with a mask is patent admission of fear and symbolic of retreat and hiding in the face of challenge. It seems to violate masculine idea of being brave and being a fighter. A mask on the other hand from the perspective of women is a hindrance in pursuit of their ideal of being attractive (in narrow sense of gender construction). It runs contrary to the idea of beautification and making up. Mask therefore, is object of obstruction in way of performance of gender role and pursuit of gender identity. This however may not be the case with people who do not cast themselves and categorize themselves in rigid gender binary.

Product acceptance may start with basic form and functionality, but its success depends on cultivation of meanings in sync with the socio-psychological- cultural reality where its consumer is embedded.

Brand Rishi Kapoor, Nostalgia and Relationships (Guest Contribution)*

It is a season of losses. Financial, economic, social, emotional and human. And then some more, Irrfan yesterday and close on his heels, Rishi Kapoor. T.S. Eliot’s words “April is the cruellest month” seem to acquire an intense meaning and deeper significance.

Both Irrfan and Rishi were brilliant actors, natural, spontaneous, professional, passionate about their craft and profession. They have left a huge tear in the fabric of Bollywood, a void, a vacuum which will not be easy to mend or fill.

We are a sum total of all the people we have met, all the places we have visited, all the books we have read and all the movies we have seen. Bollywood has been a staple on which all of us have been fed since the day we were born. Not surprisingly, these films have helped shape our personalities, our consciousness and our value system. They have been entertaining and instructive, distant and near, fantasy and reality so much so that it becomes difficult to untangle which is which.

A movie is more than just entertainment. It has a life of its own which is measured in terms of its craftsmanship and technical finesse as also in terms of financial success. However, for the cinema lover like me, a movie becomes much more than this. A movie is a memory. It is not only a chronicle of the times, of our socio political history but it also marks  important events and milestones. It becomes associated with our personal history and brings back precious memories of when we saw it, who we saw it with, where we saw it and so on. It serves the purpose of triggering priceless memories.

Bobby was given an A certificate when it released and I remember my outrage when my parents saw it without me. Soon it got a U certificate and I watched the movie with my neighbours, at Chanakya. I was a child then and have not met that family for close to 30 years and yet the good times flooded back. I recall seeing Rafuchakkar, Khel Khel Mein, Karz, Hum Kisi Se Kam Nahin, Zahreela Insaan, Barood( the last two were not typical of Rishi’s oeuvre) with my parents. As a child, I copied his dance moves. Kabhi Kabhi, and all all the Yash Chopra movies that he starred in marked my youth. College days were incomplete without songs from his movies that we sang in the canteen. Chandni played a crucial role in my courtship. Rishi was unstoppable. He kept aging, I kept aging but he continued to bring forth stellar performances and unforgettable characters. Do Duni Chaar, Mulk, Rajma Chawal, Kapoor and Sons are etched in my mind. He essayed a negative role of Rauf Lala in the remake of Agnipath with elan.

The chocolate boy, vivacious, vibrant, energetic, ebullient, effervescent, charismatic who encapsulated youth and romance is no more.  I can  hear his voice in my head, its texture and the range of emotions it could convey. His face will live in my mind’s eye, and his voice will play in my head forever. He gave me immense happiness through his work and as I say goodbye to him, he has triggered millions of memories, caused a long flashback of my personal history.

It was a life well lived, a career innings well played. He brought happiness in the lives of countless Indians.  A star, a legend, a showman is no more but the show must go on. RIP.


*Renu Kapoor, PGDAV College, University of Delhi.

Rational Choice, Consumer, Chinese Goods, Being ‘Right’ and Being ‘Good’

The world is passing through an epic crisis unleashed by Covid 19. The effect of pandemic is clear on people’s physical, psychological, social and economic well being. China, where it all began is subject of debates about the virus’s origin, spread, secrecy misinformation, influence on WHO and effective containment within its territorial boundaries. Further, as various countries’ health infrastructure is overwhelmed by spread of the contagion, China is accused of profiting from the crisis and it’s leaving no stone unturned in making a kill by investing in companies in distress.

How do we judge here? The way China has behaved may imply violation of ethics and morality from the perspective of good conduct instigating negative emotions like disgust, angst and condemnation. It is through corporate, country and brand reputation and image that consumer buying is expected to be impacted. So then, is it reasonable to assume that consumers’ evaluation would move in negative direction making them steer away from Chinese products and brands?

Several theories suggest emotion and behavior linkages. One view is that emotions activate behavior in a fixed manner like anger causes a person to fight or run away because of fear. An alternative conception is that people behave in pursuit of anticipated emotion. We give to feel happy. In psychology, emotions are assumed to play central role in guiding our decisions. These decisions channel our behaviors in direction by which negative experience of negative emotions (like sorrow, regret) is avoided and increasing experience of positive emotions like happiness and love is sought. From these perspectives emotion as cause and consequence, the issue at hand is whether this outrage would result in avoidance of Chinese products, brands and trade.

Markets often do not produce evidence to this effect. Back in the days when American automobile industry was badly battered by Japanese cars Americans were asked to buy American cars. The emotional charging around nationalism failed. VW could sell its Beetle despite anti Nazi sentiments after Second World War.


Markets are different from other social places. A person in consumer role wears a different hat. It is where consumers are expected to use their rationality and make the ‘right’ choice. So what constitutes a right choice or decision? According to rational choice theory, an individual uses rationality/thinking to make a distinction between right and not right categories of options keeping self interest at the centre. The right choice is the one that provides the highest benefit or satisfaction. The rational choice theory is about perusal of self interest.

Is ‘right’ same as ‘good’? No, good is a different dimension. It is about virtuosity and righteousness. It refers to moral quality. Amartya Sen in his book ‘A Theory of Justice’ shows how people respond in blatant immodesty as ‘ I am very good’ when inquired about their physical wellness. Goodness is a moral quality.

The question therefore arises, are consumers expected to behave in ‘good’ or ‘right manner?

It is highly unlikely that post Covid the immorality and ethical violation of China would bear out on consumer decisions for a long period of time. Consumers are basically selfish and look for options to maximize their individual gains. How come business partners have turned blind eye to the alleged unethical business behavior of Chinese companies? The rationality for businesses and consumers is not different in its brutal perusal of self-interest. The ‘right’ mostly ‘prevails upon the ‘good’.

Lock Down, Confinement, Covid 19, Empathy, Dharma and Consumer Behavior

Covid 19 has made all of us experience and experiment with a lifestyle we could never ever imagine. The lock down and resultant confinement, a preventive measure has drastically shrunk our space for physical movement. The world out there is not under our feet. The new DIY (do it yourself) life is on. The DIY activities are not discretionary pursuits any more but are survival essentials. So how is Covid 19 likely to affect humans and humans as consumers?

Servile and menial activities that are typically valued as low, primarily due to demand and supply mechanism, will now be seen from a new valuation perspective. The human condition which market valuation of goods and services ignores is likely to be included in consumer assessment. The case in point is domestic services rendered by people at fringes of society. In conduct of everyday life we survive by a very convenient and pragmatic practice of moral switching off. We simply disconnect and mentally insulate from the condition of ‘the other’ by the intellectual practice of moral insulation.

The forced upon ‘do- it yourself’ in menial roles has created ground for evolution. It is giving us a chance to become human by fostering a sense of empathy. Our schooling and growing up teaches us to become dexterous is art of practice of selective empathy. Empathy is about understanding the feelings of other, what the other one is experiencing. It is the capacity to identify with the other. And this is best achieved when one literally places one- self in other’s position.

So what is Covid 19 teaching us? It is teaching us to be on the side of ‘dharma’. Among three living forms- plants, animals and humans, it is humans alone who have the higher capacity to empathize. Plants and animals are guided by the motivation of self preservation. Only humans can transcend this base instinct and practice compassion and concern for others.  It is only humans who can imagine other’s condition. Inability to empathize reduces us to animal or plant level.

So is Covid 19 a teacher? Probably yes, if it makes are empathetic. It is an opportunity to ‘Be more’ or ‘The Complete man’ (woman included).

Transform Covid 19’s Image from Friendly Ball to Monster to Transform People’s Behaviour

In the movie The Gods Must be Crazy, a Coca Cola bottle (container of the fizzy liquid) gets thrown from an airplane into the Kalahari Desert, an area where Bushmen lived happily. The story is about how this bottle, from being a blank meaningless object, evolves into something useful and eventually something evil.

Meaning is not out there in objects, symbols, and signs. It is what we assign. When Xi, the Bushman speaks to others it is nothing but empty sounds producing movement of lips and remains un-comprehended. Hearing someone hum a tune becomes more enjoyable when we know the lyrics.

What will be your response when see your opponent with a cane, pistol, rifle and machine gun? It will produce increasing level of fear as we understand one is more deadly than the other.

What will happen when an enemy is deadly but invisible like Covid 19? Something that is below the sensory level or minimum threshold level, it is not passed on to the higher intellectual faculty for processing. The virus is an invisible enemy. Consequently we are unlikely to see, touch, feel and smell it. Accordingly our behavior will be aloof to its presence for there is no corresponding thought or knowledge pulling us towards risk avoidance behavior. This probably is the reason why people tend to be indifferent to wearing masks, maintaining hand hygiene and practicing social distancing.

How do we create knowledge or thought or beliefs about Covid in people’s minds?

The challenge is similar to what marketers of intangibles face. There are two routes to communication: visual and verbal. Hotels communicate promised experience through images because ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. Similarly the graphic images on a cigarette pack are more likely to drive the point home than a plain and simple ‘Cigarette smoking is injurious to health’.  An image conveys meaning more effectively than words. But how do you convey meaning of Covid to general public? The newspapers and television discussion take the verbal route but are subject to rules of elaboration. Which means only those who are capable and motivated are likely to attend and to comprehend message. This is likely to exclude a large section of population. So you have to rely on imagery because it involves most used sense and is easier to process.

Look around the images of Covid 19 that circulate in media. Covid 19’s shape which is how this virus looks under the microscope is an accurate representation from which it derives it name. But for lay person it is a unique kind of spiky ball. It activates related images of games and all the enjoyable moments. It fails to create perception of risk and harm. This may partly explain why people take the situation of extreme risk and danger with an ease. So what is the way out?

The communication must use dramatization and employ images that show virus is something evil and monstrous (use mythology or stories) which destroys and kills people, family, community and country.

Covid 19, Pandemic, Wuhan, China, Naming and Strategy of Distancing

Why is that most of the products that we commonly use are not sold by their technical or chemical names such as salt, detergent powder and baking soda as sodium chloride, sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate? Why do marketers do a lot of thinking and strategizing in giving them brand names like Tata Salt, Tide and Arm & Hammer?

‘Name’ is one of the most important elements in the branding process. The name assigned to a product depends on broader architecture that a firm intends to adopt after mapping consumers, competition and own assets. Fundamentally, brand name is intended to link a product with its source or its marketer in order to differentiate it from other competitors. This link between an individual product or brand with its source/ firm can vary in terms of its directness.

The brand name Tata Salt very directly takes us to the repertoire of trust that the house of Tata enjoys in India. Though Tide does not make its connection with P&G explicit but it is known. Hence it plugs into the reputation of its maker indirectly. However, Arm & Hammer as a name enjoys the weakest link with Church & Dwight. It stands on its own.

What happens if a deadly virus originates from your soil and goes on to become a pandemic infecting millions and killings thousands? What would you do if you create an evil product? What if your corporation is linked with Bhopal gas leak? What if your shipping container spills millions of gallons of crude into Alaska? What if your company is responsible for audit misconduct in Enron? What if your brand endorser is charged with infidelity?

Clearly the strategy in such cases is ‘divorce and distance’ from such an evil product, act or deed. Or else there is a huge risk of reputation setback. When it is called Covid 19, this virus gets hooked up with a technical category of Corona viruses which have emerged in  Coronavirus (SARS-CoV, 2002, H1N1 , 2009,and MERS-CoV, 2012). This categorization draws us into debate and discussion of virology and epidemiology.

But if this virus is referred to as Wuhan or China virus, clearly the attention shifts to a geopolitical entity and its style of functioning, transparency and morality. The debate is likely to take a business, political and ideological turn. This is undesirable and likely to have affect/shape how China is seen by people and nations across the globe.  The name, Covid 19 distances China from the pandemic. How Covid 19 replaced the Wuhan or China virus in currency of language is for everyone to see whether it has been by way of natural selection of better expression or the outcome of a well designed branding strategy.

Covid 19, Wuhan Virus, Brands, Communication, Missing Empathy and Goodness

Covid 19 or Wuhan virus is highly efficient but less fatal.  As of now it also does not have a proven treatment. Developing a cure is a challenge for researchers, that too in a short period of time.  So is containment of virus spread among people for behavioral experts.  Media reports suggest work in progress in the development of vaccine by several companies and research labs. But what stands in stark contrast is the absence of persuasive communication campaigns by creative communication community.

Whatever common people seem to be receiving has been coming from news channels.  The experts talk about wearing mask, maintaining hand hygiene and practicing social distancing. These advices and exhortations are likely to make sense to people who are curious, information seekers and understand the risks involved.  Communication experts know the limits of force of communication. People don’t pay attention and often fail to comprehend  just any stimulus which hits them. What if one does not fully understand what Covid is and how it works and what if  information disseminated by news channels is not fully  received and understood.  The poor adherence of social distancing, not wearing masks, violating lockdown proves it.

Compare this moment of crisis and elections. What is missing? It is the researched, highly creative and effectively delivered campaigns. Where are slogans, short movies, social media clips, cartoon films, podcasts and emojis? Since most commercial communication takes not so direct informational route to attract consumers and exploits emotions to create behavioral attraction or revulsion, communication solely driven by news channels is unlikely  to produce desirable response. Here our creative community in advertising industry seems to have failed to contribute to the cause. The burden on the government system in policing people to follow Covid rules would get drastically reduced if campaigns specifically crafted in accordance to their sense and sensibilities are created. What is required here is a little generosity and detachment from the metrics of top and bottom-line. Election campaigns get theme rewards, here there may be none. But sometimes things have to be done for they are right.

Are the times of Covid 19 right for branding? But before we go to that let me say that brands which thrive by consumer behavior modification seem to have failed. It seems Covid 19 has brought time of flourish for many soaps, sanitizers and hand wash brands. Other brands continue to engage with consumers with their pre-Covid 19 campaigns as if nothing has happened. They seem to come across as highly apathetic and indifferent brands which care too hoots about the state their consumers are in.  Brands seem to be losing a great opportunity in creating humanization by infusing greatest of human qualities like empathy, care and trust.

Why it is hard to fight Covid 19 is because the our corporations are not programmed to go beyond the logic of surplus, doing well is more important than doing ‘good’.