What a branding curse. A worldwide flu epidemic named after swine. Will the Swine Industries recover?

The WHO announced today it was ‘renaming’ Swine Flu to H1N1 Influenza. Apparently it’s a more appropriate name to reduce the stigma against the Swine Industry.

I can guarantee you that it will forever be known in the mind of the world as Swine Flu.

Here is a classic example of brand positioning. The name Swine Flu was launched and embedded in the mind of the consumer, i.e. you and I, extremely well.

Our first understanding of the issue (let’s call it a product brand) was well established and named as Swine Flu. In the mind of the market it is firmly entrenched.

The ‘brand’ Swine Flu is positioned as the scariest, most infectious disease raging across the world. Simply renaming the virus now, after such an effective world wide launch is quite useless.

Let me break it down for you in marketing speak:

The Product = Scary, highly infectious flu that could kill millions around the world

The Brand Name = Swine Flu

The Target Market = Any human that breaths

The Promotional Method = PR, News, Online

The Campaign Result = Worldwide awareness within days with dramatic action from all levels of government and the private sector.

Positioning is owning a tangible and defensible space in the mind. Swine Flu achieved this in days, with worldwide success. Calling it H1N1 now is like asking people to use another name for brands such as Coke, or Bush, or 9-11 or McDonalds.

It simply won’t happen.

This is the power of positioning. When you launch a brand well by creating an extremely strong position in the mind of the consumer that position is rock solid. It can be destroyed, but it will usually take a better brand, a stronger position or a failure of the product to deliver to remove the position.

Based on this logic, Swine Flu will only lose it’s impact if:

a. Another virus erupts with even greater impact. (Let’s pray this doesn’t happen!)
b. The WHO spend more time and effort in the next week on positioning N1H1 than they did with Swine Flu (I can’t see that happening)
c. Swine Flu fails to be the world wide epidemic that was feared. (Let’s pray this does happen!)

The question now, is what can the Swine Industries do to combat the brand damage?

There is an answer, it simply requires some clever re-positioning. Let’s watch this space.