Divyapratap Mehta
Guest Article

Dear non-hygiene, non-germ kill, non-immunity brands...

What are brands you never associated with hygiene, germ kill, or immunity doing in this room?

I have been intrigued and equally amused at the marketing explosion around hygiene and immunity-based claims and advertising. What is even more amusing is the amount of overnight product innovation, claims and advertising by categories and brands that you never thought stood for hygiene, germ kill, or immunity.

So, what really happened here? Is it pure marketing genius, opportunism, or a desperate attempt to stay relevant in these times? I feel it’s a complex reaction built around a shock that shook a lot of industries. The COVID crisis was a sudden event that shook all of us.

There was a sudden hyper demand for hygiene, germ kill, germ protection, and immunity that was created. This suddenly made a lot of categories and brands relevant, and there was hyper competition to get a share of this sudden spurt in demand. This created the first marketing explosion.

By now, most people had realised that there was a huge business potential around these needs. New categories, like UV sanitisers, were being created. While at one end there were categories that were scrambling to meet the demand, at the other, there were categories scrambling to survive and create relevance.

A lot of these brands could have used this time to pause, reflect, and think of a way forward. Maybe some of them should have reconciled that their business will suffer for some time, and embrace it.

What seems to have happened is the exact opposite. There was no patience to accept the shift, and think how could you stick to your core and recalibrate. After all, protecting your core should be prime for most brands and businesses.

The new quarterly world that we have created, backed by hyper marketing, to constantly deliver numbers seems to have been put to full test. This, along with a certain greed to make the most of the germ kill, immunity boost, hygiene and gold rush, ensured we had some of the most amusing, bizarre and unexpected marketing claims from categories, like even textiles (shirts claiming to kill the Coronavirus).

There were indulgent ice cream brands launching immunity boosting variants. Mattress and furniture brands were offering germ kill benefits. And the list of categories continues to grow.

What’s interesting is that most of these brands, which had no history, or credibility, in addressing these needs, have been rejected, or have drawn some sort of flak, from consumers. I think they took the survival of the fittest, and its linkage to adapting quite literally.

While I fundamentally believe in the idea of adapting with the times, there has to be a context and a long-term intent to it. Without that, it looks like just desperate selling, or misguided marketing. This, unfortunately, can create a more long-term damage to the brand. It takes a long time to build consumer trust, belief and equity.

I would advise brands to be sensitive to the consumers, try protecting their core, stay within the limits of their equity to find relevance in these testing times. As for the dear non-hygiene, non-germ kill, non-immunity brands, trying to jump on to the ‘brand wagon’, please be sensitive and sure.

I am sure a lot of businesses will find their way to navigate and stay relevant to consumers. And, I am sure there are more ways to find relevance than just latching on to this bandwagon.

(The author is a brand consultant, who runs an integrated marketing firm, called Intertwined Brand Solutions.)