Boy and doctor in office with stethoscope

Shaming Health Brands in Crisis

— JJ Lee, Vice President, Regional Health Sector Lead, APAC 

The way that consumers interact with their health brands is as emotional as it is rational. These brands are, after all, the keepers of our wellness, creators of life-saving products.

Rationally, a health consumer expects their brand to deliver quality products against strong science. But perhaps as importantly, they want to see that brand acting altruistically against a greater social imperative.  

So when a health brand is perceived to have crossed a line, the impulse to brand shame is strong.

We are seeing this in Hong Kong and Singapore as officials recently adopted more restrictive marketing codes against infant formula companies. In droves, consumers took to their blogs and social media networks to voice support—or throw rotten tomatoes.

Charged debates on medical device companies also spread across online chat groups in India when the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) announced that it would adopt strict price controls on cardiac stents.

In today’s rapidly evolving markets, accelerated by technology, consumers are savvier and more observant than ever to data about their health brands made public by governments and think tanks. In Asia Pacific, consumers have enormous power to drive sales but are unlikely to advocate for these brands in times of crisis.  

And the impulse to brand shame is not limited to health brands. A recent study by WE Communications, Brands in Motion, tracking the behavior of more than 13,000 consumers and 3,000 B2B decision makers across eight industries revealed that a surprising 90 percent of people would gladly shame a brand that they love if it misbehaves.

So how can a health brand in crisis position itself effectively in such fickle times? One answer may be to throw out the notion of static brand positioning altogether. With the enormous technological, macro-economic, and regulatory pressures displacing brands every day, the idea of a communications strategy targeting a weather-proof brand position is outdated.

Brands, health brands, in particular, must be nimble—evaluating their rational and emotional position with stakeholders today so that they can know which communications levers to pull tomorrow when the landscape shifts again.