Sharp Points

thoughts on graphics and branding

Rebranding the Swine Flu

Posted by stephaniesharp on May 24, 2009

Within days of the news being swamped with stories on the Swine Flu, we heard that they were wanting the media and the people to call it the N1H1 virus. The pork producers were concerned that some people seemed to think you could acquire the swine flu from eating pork products. Sales of pork products dropped quite a bit in those initial days.

After initially hearing the Swine Flu is the N1H1 virus, I paid special attention to the news stories on the news. My memory says there was only N1H1 mentioned once or twice. All of the media were still using the term Swine Flu.

Being in this business, I immediately thought “yes, this is a branding problem.” A company, or in this case the government, may want to change the terminology or perception of the public, but just because you release a press release announcing your intention for changes does not mean that the consumer will follow along. It points out that the company can try to control the conversation but it is up to the media and the people as to if they accept the change or not. 

In this particular case there are a couple of reasons why. First, swine flu is the initial term we all heard and associated with this flu. No one could start calling it N1H1 without also using the term swine flu. Otherwise the listeners/viewers wouldn’t get the connection.

I watched for several days and kept thinking the “rebranding” wasn’t working. I was always hearing swine flu and only rarely hearing N1H1. Over a few days there was a change. Then the reports were saying the swine flu/N1H1 and then it was N1H1/swine flu. Everywhere, TV, radio, newspaper, online most of the reporters were using the N1H1 term.

For most marketing companies you probably won’t see a brand image change happen this fast, but you probably won’t receive as much media coverage as this story did either.

It’s nice, and scary, that the government is using marketing and branding more frequently to communicate to the citizenry.

The media is using the term N1H1 with frequency now, but for the average person the term swine flu is what they are using. Will they catch on and start using N1H1 for the rebranding to be a success?


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