Prabhakar Mundkur: Coronavirus capitalised on by Opportunistic Marketers

13 Mar,2020

By Prabhakar Mundkur


Some of the tech firms have really shown the way during the Coronavirus to make life better for people the world over.  They have done this by locking down their offices, making people work from home and Google has gone to the extent of blocking ads that are capitalising on the Coronavirus.

On the other hand, opportunistic FMCG marketers are working in quite a different way. Some of them have decided to capitalise on the Coronavirus scare to promote their handwash and other products.  I personally think it is unethical to cash in on a major pandemic that is threatening the entire world, and look at it as an opportunity to market your products. While spreading the correct information is helpful, couching a product message slyly into that information somehow is very opportunistic.


One such example was a social media message from Godrej, a company that I greatly admire and has a good reputation as a trusted and honest company. The message played a film which went through the steps of washing hands correctly.  While this was going on, one couldn’t miss the Protekt India branding in the corner of the frame.  It all seemed like a good humanitarian effort to help everyone given the Coronavirus scare which you were about to applaud, when the disappointment hit you like a sock in your solar plexus.  It was just another product ad for Mr Magic, its new hand wash introduced a year ago.  The end-frame looked like this.


It says ‘Haath dhokar Coronovirus ke darr ko karo choo mantar’.  Nice weasel. While the product message seems to say allay the fear of the Coronavirus, one can’t mistake how the product has been cleverly woven in with the dreaded disease.


Then there was another ad for a product that I am not very familiar with called  Campure, a camphor-based product that claims to reduce the risk of Coronavirus. The 100% organic tag, might seem like it is a safe product. While no doubt the benefits of camphor are many, one wonders how it reduces the risk of Coronavirus which is a very specific claim.


I thought the most responsible ad was by Lifebuoy. It was very clearly a matter of fact, public service message and it did not draw any direct inference to Coronavirus. Well done, Hindustan Unilever. One would have expected no less from a globally reputed company.


One wonders how the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Consumer Affairs is going to react to this kind of advertising from marketers. Are they going to patiently wait for innocent consumers to complain, or are they going to raise a suo moto complaint on their own?


The world biggest tech firms like Google on the other hand have taken a stance to protect the citizens of the world from mis-information.


Sundar Pichai for example in a statement said:

“Protecting people from misinformation

Our Trust and Safety team has been working around the clock and across the globe to safeguard our users from phishing, conspiracy theories, malware and misinformation, and we are constantly on the lookout for new threats. On YouTube, we are working to quickly remove any content that claims to prevent the coronavirus in place of seeking medical treatment. On Google Ads we are blocking all ads capitalizing on the coronavirus, and we’ve blocked tens of thousands of ads over the last six weeks. We are also helping WHO and government organizations run PSA ads. Google Play also prohibits developers from capitalizing on sensitive events, and our long-standing content policies strictly prohibit apps that feature medical or health-related content or functionalities that are misleading or potentially harmful.”


Now that is a statement from a responsible world citizen.


Prabhakar Mundkur is an ad industry veteran and a prolific writer and commentator. He writes frequently on MxMIndia


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