Swine Flu: CDC’s Brand Coup?!

As we all wash our hands for the 89th time today, you have to admire the Center for Disease Control‘s effective branding and positioning of the Swine Flu. Really, swine fluwould the threat of an obscure H1N1 virus sufficiently capture our attention or become a media darling? ‘Swine flu brand’ has gained exceptionally high consumer awareness in a short time, reinforced awareness with frequent and relevant messages, generated buzz and driven preventive activity. Amazing, given that medical professionals are still sorting through the validity of this flu’s unique severity.

Bizarre as it may be, Swine Flu is a great example of effective brand naming, communication, awareness and relevance. First, it has a unique and memorable ‘brand name.’ The name ties to an early, erroneously perceived similarity to influenza viruses that circulate in North American pigs.  The name successfully grabs your attention and is convincingly menacing. Second, the communication plan has been exceptionally effective. Early reports of this imminent, frightening potential epidemic were widespread, clear, and emotionally-charged. The media’s tracking and local-angle reporting have been ongoing, since the first report. The high frequency of messages at the national and local levels has created a very high level of brand awareness… would it be possible not to have heard about it? Similarly, the messages are highly relevant, implying that you and your loved ones are under constant life-threatening conditions in daily situations. The messaging adeptly harnesses one of the most motivating behaviors: fear.

Virtually everyone is aware of the ‘Swine Flu brand,’ has a clear image of what it is, and has adapted their behaviors in some way based on this new knowledge. That’s great branding. Now off to wash my hands again….

Lessons Learned:
1. Select a memorable, unique brand name that reinforces your product or service’s most important attributes.
2. Plan and execute a clear, consistent external communication plan to quickly build awareness with your target audience.
3. Try to make your brand newsworthy with sufficient issue value to gain additional mentions through public relations and buzz.
4. Make your message as relevant and urgent as possible. Explain how your brand lets consumers avoid pain or improve the quality of their life.
5. Ensure key messages have a call to action – what it is you want consumers to do.

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