COVID-19: Will your brand be a hero or a zero in Africa?

Brand owners may be wondering what the situation is with Covid-19 in Africa.

At first glance, it is very much like the rest of the world - calls for social distancing and frequent handwashing, as well as lockdowns in a number of countries including, at the time of writing, Botswana, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mali, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

But it is also very different. Despite the fact that Africa’s population is young, the continent is seemingly ill-equipped to deal with Covid-19. Hundreds of millions of Africans live in overcrowded run down areas. In an opinion piece that appeared on www.dw.com the author makes the point that these areas involve a lack of fresh water, a lack of sanitation and high rates of disease. Self-quarantine is virtually impossible. Not only are lockdowns likely to be ineffective, but they will be unpopular and hard to enforce.

Turning to brand values. Africans will be watching brands closely over the coming months. They will have noted that many have already not been doing the right thing.

South Africa has, like many other countries, decreed that all commercial activities must cease, other than those that are essential. It has created a system whereby companies that provide essential services can register. But there has already been widespread abuse, and the authorities have threatened to name-and-shame those companies that have wrongly registered. As well as many others - companies that have failed to provide their employees with the necessary protective workwear and equipment, retailers that have failed to enforce social distancing. Meanwhile the competition authorities are investigating allegations of overpricing of essential goods such as hand sanitisers, face masks and toilet paper, allegations that involve major chains.

But the news is not all bad. A South African media giant has made available some of its facilities for public health services, and it has donated a significant quantity of personal protective equipment and medical supplies. A major retailer has created a mobile store that sells the basics to those who cannot get to the shops. Another major retailer has donated money for the purchase of protective clothing for medical workers. There will be cynics who see actions like these as being strategic rather than genuine, but on the whole actions like these are likely to have a positive effect on brand values.

It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves just what a brand is. As Doug Stephens said in a recent article in The Business of Fashion, branding is what others say and think about you. When the pandemic comes to an end ‘consumers won’t begin searching for brands they hope they can trust, they will choose brands they already believe they can trust based on previously observed action.’

It is perhaps worth remembering that what we are living through is both extraordinary and temporary.

In IP we have seen some truly wonderful initiatives of late, such as the sharing and free-licensing of IP involved in safety equipment, and established brands like McDonalds and VW dropping some of their brand rigidity and temporarily amending their logos to emphasize the social distancing message.

But when this is all over normal service will resume. And brand values will count.

This article was first published in World Trademark Review Daily.

Date published: 16 April 2020
Author: Duncan Maguire

Tags: trademarks COVID-19 Africa World Trademark Review