What a difference a Phase 5 pandemic makes. The drums of global hysteria grow ever more deafening as every news outlet screams the new name for horror: “Swine Flu.”
Swine Flu compelled Egypt to order the immediate slaughter of every pig in the country, Great Britain to order thirty-two million masks and the Chicago Public School System to temporarily shutter a few Elementary Schools. Around the globe, new legislation, international travel bans and public service announcements drive home the deadly threat, even in countries with no current cases.
None of this is good for pig farmers, particularly since their product has precious little to do with the outbreak. While this flu virus did originate in pigs, every flu virus originates in birds, pigs or humans–that’s how they evolve. The trouble is that influenza mutates incredibly quickly in any carrier, which is why flu vaccines must constantly change unlike say, the vaccine for polio. According to flu experts at the World Health Organization, this virus is neither food borne nor related to pork consumption. It spreads solely through human-to-human contact; no one has contracted swine flu through eating, handling or even kissing a pig.
Regardless, the popular misperception persists and because brands are opinions, the Other White Meat brand now lies seriously compromised and decidedly devalued. Of course, they have close company in the Mexican Tourism Board, which was already battling a dangerous drug violence concern.
Can a brand survive this type of reputation-riddling tsunami? Not without a serious and aggressive investment in messaging. Advertising can help the Pig Farmers, but a PR offensive would prove more immediately effective. And they did accomplish at least a small first victory yesterday, convincing the World Health Organization to stop referring to it as “Swine Flu” and instead use the less memorable but more accurate “H1N1 Influenza A.” Whether the Pig Farmers take action or not–and their website’s landing page so far ignores this issue entirely–having a clearly-defined task like correcting a mistaken perception puts pork is in a far better position than the multi-front battle facing Mexican Tourism. Aye carrumba…
Of course, on the bright side, this story is spurring disinfectant soap sales by the boxcar.