Going Viral

The role of communications becomes very critical during crisis.  With the world facing the unprecedent pandemic – Corona Virus (Covid 19), brands and corporates are scrambling to craft messages reacting to the changed reality while being senistive to the situation.

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 o n 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.

Image result for kfc coronavirus fingerWhile 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 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 centers.

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.

Taking cue from from PornHub, in India Durex started an innovative campaign encouraging people to stay inside, stay covered.

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 24×7

Fevicol stuck to its core messaging of sticking together but with caution, going all the way of “masking” their mascots.


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 not only information but also for 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 Xiomi 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.

Good communication has always been about balancing intention and the action. These are testing times for brands to communicate with utmost caution and empathy and show that they’re more than just a transaction.

Anup Sharma (@TweetsAnup)

The author is a StoryTeller with two decades of experience in Public Relations and Corporate Communications. He is also the Senior Director at Public Relations Consultants Association of India.

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