The "No mask, no entry" policy is in full force around Ghana, and I can tell from all the visible shop decals that property owners are enforcing it to the letter. But a mask is a mask and a mask, branded or not. You need the right mask on to help fight the spread of COVID-19…….
The temptation by big and small brands, social groups, and political parties to put their logos or brand on a face mask is so intense, and I can understand why. But if your face mask cannot heal COVID-19, please don’t put your brand on it. It may be useful to brand almost anything under the sun just for brand visibility, but is it always the right thing to do? “Let’s do it for brand exposure.” That’s the small voice around the table championing the idea of branding a PPE. Rubbish! Don’t do it.
So, shall we unpack why it will be unethical and nonsensical to brand something like a simple face mask? Everything I’m going to write is open to debate, by the way. With this in mind, I must quickly add that we may never have a winner because I am 100% sure I am heaven-bound with my view that it is not a great idea to brand a PPE like many brands in Ghana are doing today at the peak of a pandemic.
Don’t commercialize a PPE at the peak of a pandemic. It does not come across as being sensitive to the toils of frontline workers around the world who apart from risking their lives, face the possibility of a shortage of PPEs mainly due to influx of patients into their hospitals as flattening the curve becomes increasingly overwhelming despite efforts by authorities. As of late April 2020, the COVID-19 wave had shifted from the East to the North-West, with the USA now the epicenter of the pandemic.
Many manufactures like 3M had to reorganize their production lines to increase the daily output of essential PPEs like face mask and respirators. Samsung, we are told, sent some of its factory hands to other factories making PPEs to help boost productivity. Ask yourself why a big brand like Samsung hasn’t found it prudent to pay for branded masks to be produced for them. If they did, we would have seen an avalanche of face masks branded for Coca Cola, Apple, Samsung, and so many other multinationals. The big brands haven’t gone down this route because they know it’s not worth it.
Branding a face mask at the height of a pandemic like COVID-19 doesn't add much to the brand. What it does communicate to the world though, is that a brand is taking advantage of a terrible situation to showcase its brand. Exploiting hype in the face of a tragedy is like building a magnificent titanic that may be on its way to hit an iceberg. Pandemic marketing is horrible marketing, and it's not suitable for any brand.
When Ghana's President, H.E Nana Akufo Addo announced the decision to oblige people to wear face masks in public spaces, it was as if Ghana had an overdue pregnancy expecting the birth of mask designers. Suddenly the "maskonomics" movement was born. A new mask sewing economy was unleashed on the masses seeking the solace of protection from COVID-19 in their daily hustles.
Almost every tailor or seamstress without immediate proof of consideration for standards became an overnight expert in making masks. This also paved the way for pandemic marketers to ride the tide in making branded masks for corporates such as banks, telecoms, insurance companies etc. By any measure, the distribution of branded face mask amounts to the immoral commercialization of the one item we've been told could help us all deal with the COVID-19 disease.
Just imagine some people refusing to wear a face mask because it's not the exact brand they want. What happens? They get exposed, and we are all exposed. So, before you put your logo on a mask or any PPE for that matter, ask yourself – what does my brand stand for and what will I lose if I don’t fix my darn logo on a face mask.
It is protective gear, not a fashion accessory – I have seen very well-made face masks with matching bow ties. I’ve also seen masks beaded with very elaborate detail. They look cool, right? As you may have noticed, the face mask is gradually being transformed from being just a PPE to a fashion accessory. I can understand why. But remember that only testing and tracing will heal our land – not masking and matching! People will argue that if turning the mask into a fashion accessory will make people wear them, why not?
Well, encouraging people to wear masks doesn’t mean you should slap your brand on them. There are so many ways you can achieve brand association without sticking your logo/brand on a mask. If you believe branding a face mask is good marketing, then you probably need to go back to marketing school. Pointlessly branding a face mask makes it seem like an optional fashion accessory. It is way more than that. It is a public health requirement now, and we are all obliged to wear it. It’s not an option.
It is ethically dangerous. Your brand must stand for something; otherwise, it will not be known for anything. You should always resist the temptation to copy any new fad, hook, line and sinker. Pause and ask yourself what the payoffs are, how will this conduct hold sway for your brand and will my brand profit from a reputation for acting with honesty and integrity in a critical time like this? As they say "Good ethics make good business sense.”
In a recent survey of 25,000 people in 23 countries; 50% said they "pay attention" to the social behaviour of companies. One in five said they protested poor social performance by speaking out against the companies or refusing to buy their products. Your brand’s policies and actions are under constant scrutiny and assessment by those who can make or break your business. Can you afford not to do the right thing?
So, do some social good with your brand by all means – donate some “brandless” disposable or reusable face masks, for example. You will surely increase your brand’s social goodwill. Be socially responsible and help fight the spread of COVID-19. Just don’t look at this with a purely commercial lens. It is a pandemic, not a carnival. It is a tough time for all of humanity. Now is not the time to use a mask to give your brand an edge. You can do that at the post-COVID-19 party.
That said, I am sure many corporates are considering ordering a few branded masks for their employees and customers. It may be well-intended, but the timing is just not right. If your order is already in the batch process at that new mask maker in your area or your cousin's friend, don't worry so much about it. Keep them in the warehouse and order a new set. While at it, pray that we will be able to get out of this situation safe in the next few months. Pray that without your branded mask, we will find a tested medical remedy such as a vaccine for coronavirus. And when that is done, you can add your branded mask to your beautiful hamper for your customers for Christmas. Just pray hard, because we need a miracle for this.
Delali Tettey Dzidzienyo, the Author is Head, Marketing and Corporate Affairs, First National Bank Ghana.