Branding Principles from COVID-19 Pandemic

Last Update: 31 March 2020

Author : Ferdaus
Article Category : Commentary
We are living through some really unique times. The COVID-19 virus is changing the world. While the numbers are alarming and a definite cause for worry, and amidst our precautions and our solidarity in fighting this together, I can’t help but observe several interesting nuggets in this crisis that I’d like to share — from the branding point of view.

According to Marty Neumeier, one of the top thought leaders in branding, a brand is a gut feeling towards an organisation, person, company or product. So branding is the process and journey of creating said brand. By extension, we can apply this notion to the world events and how we, as the human race, respond to this crisis.

So here are FIVE branding principles in action throughout this crisis that we may learn from and apply in our businesses.

1. The naming of COVID-19

As the crisis goes center stage and began taking up 80-90 percent of all air time on media channels, WHO came up with an announcement that they have agreed upon a name for this virus. Prior to the current name, reports refer to it as ‘the Wuhan Coronavirus’, ‘Novel Coronavirus’, ‘Virus from Wuhan with SARS like symptoms’ or the ‘New Coronavirus’.

There are a lot of inconsistencies, even though we know they are all referring to the same thing. This is crucial especially for something that needs to be referenced a lot, and across multiple medium, channels and contexts.

Thus the importance of naming.

I remembered netizens and keyboard warriors commenting that WHO should be focussed on finding the cure, or vaccine instead of worrying about what to call it. But now, months into the pandemic, there is unity in how everyone around the globe is calling this thing.

Secondly, there are some lessons as to why the virus is named as such. Previously, epidemics had names like ‘Spanish Flu’ (hinting that it originates from Spain), ‘MERS’ (Middle East), ‘Asian Flu’… which have links to geographies but more importantly, races and cultures. In the first month of this outbreak as it creeps out of the epicentre, there are already reports of racism and discrimination against Chinese people around the world. More neutral names like ‘H1N1’, ‘SARS’ and ‘COVID-19’ would be more appropriate.

Lesson: Naming is a crucial part of branding. It allows people to refer to something in a consistent and united fashion.

2. Unity in Rituals.

Great brands have rituals. These are habits, repetitive acts associated with a brand. One classic example is Oreo’s “Twist, Lick, Dunk”.

In this pandemic, the entire world is adopting the ‘rituals’ stipulated by the authorities — things like washing hands for more than 20 seconds with soap, social distancing with a minimum of 1 meter, stay home periods of 14 days, working from home etc.

These are quite specific rituals that the world has taken on in unison. People are encouraging each other, sometimes, in hilarious ways.

Not only that, rebelliousness or unwillingness to follow these standards are shunned. People who cough or sneeze without covering their mouth get scorning glances. Those who disobeys quarantines and lockdowns get dealt with severely.

3. SG United

At the local front in Singapore, there seems to be a brand name called ‘SG United’ with logo and all. I still love how the SG50 brand has extended to so many other things, SG United and SG Clean being one of them.

Lots of examples to quote here, stuff that radiates the concept of unity, solidarity and strength. Things like ministers taking paycuts while frontline health workers are getting bonuses. Or how Singaporeans are graciously adopting social distancing, through the demarcations of public spaces.

Ultimately if there is ever going to be a social movement, it needs a brand. SG United is a brand. There’s a logo, there are anthems (Phua Chu Kang’s made a comeback) and there are habits and rituals. And yeah, there’s a hashtag too. #SGUnited

These rallying points serve as flags and war cries of the modern day. Just as an army will be in disarray without a flag to rally under, a good brand will produce the same outcome.

4. Vocabulary

Think about it, 4 months ago, we would have never heard of Social Distancing, Stay Home Notice, Covid-19, Novel Coronavirus, etc… but now, these vocabulary are widespread.
Brand vocabulary is a mark of adoption. Look at how a true blue Starbucks patron would order his or her beverage. There might be a bunch of words that makes it sound like they’re speaking their own language.

Along with vocabulary, COVID-19 memes have come about rampantly. Memes are definitely one of the signs of brand adoption. Memes like ‘You say at home, we go to work’ held up by doctors have been shared and recreated widely.

5. Social Media

Attention is going to social media now more than ever. I’ve even seen non-creators create content. Many people around the world are in lockdown and they need to stay inside their houses.

As such, people are forming tribes and sharing ideologies. In Singapore for example, the bazaars got cancelled recently and already there are already a number of Facebook groups being formed to encourage taking the bazaar experience online. One such FB group grew to 3000 followers within a day or two.

This is a time where knowledge of social media algorithms might come in handy to be able to stand out above the increasing amounts of content being uploaded. That said, I think brands should definitely use this window to boost their social media presence.


No one wants this virus to go around. But the strategy has always been to flatten the curve, which means, to drag it out as much as possible so the healthcare services capacity isn’t overwhelmed, to avoid preventable deaths.

As such we must be prepared for the long haul.

We can find the unity among humanity in a period of adversity.

Naming, rituals, having a ‘flag’ to rally to, introducing a vocabulary and social media — these are all elements of branding that we can find in the crisis we are facing today.