How Brands Should Communicate with Latin American Audiences in COVID-19 Times

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Patrick O'Neill

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the way brands engage with their audiences and consolidate their position around the world, and Latin America is no exception. Brazil and Mexico, in particular, represent a unique challenge. Their respective political leaders have made eyebrow-raising comments on the pandemic — adding to a growing political polarization. For brands, communicating with these audiences is a balancing act, and being tactful in your messaging is paramount.

A “little flu”

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is in hot water over comments he made dismissing the pandemic as a “gripezinha”, or “little flu”, and repeatedly calling for “a return to normalcy” for the good of the country’s economy, even as the number of cases has increased exponentially.

According to one recent poll, 64 percent of Brazilians disapprove of his handling of the situation, while a record 44.8 percent support calls for his impeachment. But the situation has also struck a chord with his many followers, who are suspicious of media “fear-mongering”.

Similarly, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been outspoken in his opposition to rigorous social distancing measures. He also accused the national media and opposition parties of overstating the danger posed by the pandemic. A poll revealed that 38.6 percent believed President López Obrador was handling the situation well, while 37 percent disapproved.

The political divide on this issue is clear.

Balancing Act

In this climate, campaigns have become delicate balancing acts where one false move could alienate half the country and a big chunk of potential consumers. At the same time, since the pandemic is on everyone’s mind, shying away from the topic is not an option either.

So, where’s the balance? To start, brands should stay away from divisive stands, especially if the Head of State is involved. Joining in such firestorms will only land you in hot water with the opposite side, and any media coverage will inevitably focus more on your “feud” than on your original message. You also risk coming across as the interfering and insensitive outsider, which is never a good look!

Tact is key. For instance, Brazilian companies such as cosmetics brand Boticário, several banks, and telecoms providers, have conducted successful nationwide campaigns contradicting Bolsonaro’s rhetoric – encouraging people to stay at home and follow WHO guidelines – without addressing it directly.

Keep the Conversation Going and Offer Hope

With entire audiences in lockdown across the region, turning to mainstream and social media for updates on the pandemic, marketing activities are now more important than ever. Companies that continue to invest in advertising and public relations tend to be better equipped to weather the storm and emerge from recessions with their consumer base intact, or even stronger than before.

So, adapt your company’s messaging to show how you’re responding to these challenging times, with the well-being of your customers and employees front and centre. Keep your company’s content hopeful and positive, with messaging focused on humanity over profits, and a here-to-help attitude. Acts of philanthropy can also boost staff and stakeholder morale and forge positive associations in your customer base. All this can only strengthen ties with Latin American consumers, who are no doubt looking for answers and reassurance.

How your brand responds to this crisis will go a long way to determining its reputation and its fate in Latin America. So, stay away from cynicism and divisiveness — that can really cost you in the long run even if it garners free publicity at first. Focus on empathy, communicate positively, and position your company as fully available and ready to cooperate. Finally, show that you really understand and identify with your consumers’ reality, and you should be in good standing in this region for the tough times ahead.


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