Mumbai: The swine flu scare may be over, but some companies are looking to infuse an A/H1N1 strain—the technical name for the virus—into their advertising.
So, if purchases of Tamiflu, the Roche drug that fights the flu are regulated by the government, what can people do?
For starters, they can wash their hands more often, says a microsite that is part of the website of Unilever Plc. brand Lifebuoy (www.lifebuoy.com).
Ad inventory: A doctor uses a thermal scanner on a policeman in Mexico. There has been a spike in cold- and flu-related content being put out on websites, and traffic on these pages has also surged.Henry Romero / Reuters
“Swine flu? Not in my house. Have no fear with Lifebuoy,” says the microsite. The microsite was commissioned by Unilever to OgilvyOne.
“Lifebuoy globally is doing an educational activity...to educate consumers on how proper hand washing can help consumers protect themselves from swine flu,” said a Unilever spokesperson. “The microsite is one of the initiatives.”
An executive at an Indian agency, who is familiar with the development and who did not want to be identified, also claimed that Procter & Gamble Co. is working on a similar “swine flu” campaign for one of its brands.
Procter and Gamble India Ltd did not respond to emails from Mint on the subject.
Meanwhile, Kimberly-Clark Corp. has just broken ads for its Kleenex antiviral tissues on the swine flu theme in the UK on the back of the government’s mass door drop campaign: “Catch it, kill it, bin it”.
In Lifebuoy’s case, the executive said the microsite was an extension of the brand’s “keep your hands clean” campaign strategy running on traditional media and is part of the brand’s global hand-washing project conducted with the World Health Organization. This digital blitz is expected to have a positive rub-off on sales of liquid handwashing soap in various markets, including India.
The executive added that Lifebuoy plans to extend its campaign to digital screens in major airports across the world, and even on mobile phones of travellers using Bluetooth technology. The brand, he said, would follow up with its ads linked to searches on terms such as travel or Mexico.
There are already clear signs that the virus is set to become the marketing catchword of 2009, especially in the digital realm. According to Jay Sears, executive vice-president of strategic products and business development, ContextWeb Inc., which runs an online exchange for buyers and sellers of ad inventory, there has been a spike in cold- and flu-related content being put out by publishers. Traffic on these pages has jumped from almost zero to 400,000 a day, he claimed.
A similar trend can be seen in India. According to Mahesh Murthy, founder of Mumbai-based digital agency Pinstorm Technologies Pvt. Ltd, there was a 250% increase in volumes of online searches around swine flu around India between 25 April and 2 May. And the searches originate from all over India, even remote locations such as the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Another expert said the spike continued well into May.
Tanay Tayal, director (product management) of digital agency Komli Media Pvt. Ltd said that between 26 April and 11 May, there were 1.5 million page views in India of articles on swine flu and at least 400,000 unique users who searched for something related to swine flu.
Till date, though, only international advertisers such as Red Cross and Pig333, a blog on pigs, AOL health advertising and National Public Radio are leveraging this search opportunity, said Murthy. He added that he sees a marketing opportunity here for Indian medical firms and products such as hand washes and disinfectants. Tayal concurs. “This could be an opportunity for pharma companies and companies that are promoting better lifestyle and hygiene.”