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How brand communication has evolved in the second Covid wave

Last year, we saw brands spreading awareness about the virus and the importance of following SOPs. This year, along with advertising, brands are on the ground to do their bit to deal with the grim situation

As the second wave of the Covid pandemic continues to disrupt the country and affect the larger population in a much more personal way this year, brands have also evolved their communication compared to last year, when the virus first made inroads in India.

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Last year, as brands tried to motivate people, our social media feeds were full of communication centred on awareness and positivity.

This year, as the situation is largely grim and much more devastating, brands are finding a balance between advertising, and opting for more on-ground initiatives.

Shashank Srivastava

Shashank Srivastava, Executive Director, Maruti Suzuki India, said last year, there was a lot of uncertainty in the minds of consumers and marketers. Considering the psychological situation of employees, stakeholders and consumers, their communication largely revolved around positivity and they refrained from talking about business.

“We knew we must not talk about business as we believe trust is the new currency of brand differentiation. Hence, we created largely digital communication.  We stopped print because there was no circulation and we also stopped OOH as there was no traffic. To a large extent, the communication was limited to only digital and that too were just messages about safety and hope.”

This year there are a lot more fatalities and the fear is greater even though people have enough knowledge about the infection, Srivastava said, adding they will increase their spending on digital and also focus on sports and news genres on television.

“What we are now trying to convey is the importance of vaccination. We are more prepared for branded content on OTT platforms. Our consumers have a high affinity with sports and news and we advertised largely on sports, news and GEC channels. Last year, GEC content and live sports stopped.  Hence, last year our genre-wise spending was more towards news and movies,” Srivastava said.

“This year we had live sports with the India-England series and India-Australia series. The Olympics and Euro Sports are also happening. This means, the spending on sports will increase unlike last year as far as the genre is concerned. Digital is growing obviously. Last year, the spends on digital were almost 25%. This year it will be somewhere between 30 and 33%.”

Deba Ghoshal

Deba Ghoshal, Vice-President and Head of Marketing, Voltas, said they are closely monitoring the second wave of the pandemic and its impact on cooling products and the home appliances category. "We strive for a holistic 360-degree omni-channel strategy, where we focus on building accessibility for our customers in the ways they expect us to. Learning from the first wave of the pandemic, we are prepared for a customised marketing strategy to deliver for specific channel formats, both offline and online. We have adopted a flexible approach towards fill-ins at the PoS level."

Srivastava said compared to last year, when they had supply issues, this year the problems are on the retail side. “This time because of local lockdowns, the retail business has been hurt. We have 3,140 retail outlets out of which 2,540 are closed. In India, many vendors make use of oxygen, which is also in short supply because the Government has directed it towards medical use.”

Ghoshal said the necessity for need-based products will continue, especially when the surge tapers off, considering the continuation of the hybrid work-from-home model. He said with social distancing being a norm, people will be looking for solutions online and hence digital efforts and investments will go up this year. "There are multiple ways in which we will continue to innovate and re-look at marketing this year, which will be driven by digital," he added.

He said they have focused on staying relevant to the needs of the consumers and focused on products they launched as a response to the situation such as the Maha Adjustable PureAir ACs that disinfect the air. They have also launched a range of UV-based air, duct and surface disinfectant solutions, and received a positive response.

Samit Sinha

Samit Sinha, Managing Partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting, said last year, more people were concerned about the economic situation due to the nationwide lockdown that affected livelihoods. This time, for the vast majority of Indians, it is up, close and personal. And what is foremost in people’s minds is not the economy as much as escaping death and dealing with the serious health crises and loss of their loved ones. The shortages in critical medical care – medicines, hospital beds, oxygen – and the consequential mounting death toll have escalated people’s fear, grief and anger to an unprecedented level.

"No brand today can afford to be in denial of the impact of the current devastation brought by the pandemic on the psyche of its consumers by pretending otherwise," he added.

A PepsiCo India spokesperson said brands across their portfolio see it as their responsibility to use their popularity to spread positivity among consumers.

Brand Pepsi intends to focus on hope, trust and fun to create awareness. "Pepsi in its trademark style has been championing the cause of social distancing since last year, and continues to use its digital assets to share messages around social distancing and encouraging people to stay at home and also asking them to keep patience in these difficult times. The brand recently released a tribute to the swag of Young India and highlighted how the youth of the nation have come forward to help strangers during these unprecedented times, by sharing leads for various requirements via social media. The brand is saluting the youth of the nation for #GivingToughTimeAToughTime through the recent post, which mentions that the fiery will of India’s youth got things done," the spokesperson said.

Focus on on-ground initiatives increased since last year

Brands are also continuously focusing on doing on-ground work and coming out to support the communities. Experts say it has become even more important for brands to come out and help people.

Sinha said the scale of the pandemic would certainly have given brands a chance to re-examine their communication strategies and themes.

Talking about their initiatives to help subdue the current situation, Ghoshal said they have been working with several hospitals across India to make their wards Covid-19 compliant.

"We have a robust IoT-enabled remote monitoring centre that helps maintain chillers across hospitals and other establishments, remotely. Besides healthcare, we provide cooling and refrigeration to all essential services, right from banks to blood banks, ATMs to dairy products. And at this time of the year, being peak summers, our after-sales-service efforts for domestic end-users are being prioritised and digitised, by showcasing our DIY videos across our social handles and websites," he said.

PepsiCo Foundation has joined hands with Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society (SEEDS) to conduct vaccination drives and set up Covid care centres across India. As part of the partnership, SEEDS will drive Covid-19 vaccinations for the community at large, set up Covid care centres equipped with beds and medical facilities, including oxygen cylinders. Additionally, oxygen concentrators will also be provided to the central government for distribution to various government hospitals. The entire community relief programme will be rolled out across the country with a special focus on five states — Maharashtra, Punjab, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Telangana. In the first phase of the programme, over 100,000 vaccine doses will be provided to communities at large, administered through the local healthcare system, the spokesperson said.

On the other hand, Maruti Suzuki has been providing oxygen concentrators and oxygen plants to many government hospitals across the country. The company has also built a charity hospital in Gujarat along with Zydus, which is acting like a Covid hospital and helping a large number of villagers in the region, Srivastava said.

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