The coronavirus outbreak in China shows no signs of abating, with the number of reported cases surpassing 20,000 on February 4 — a more than four-fold increase in one week. The World Health Organization has declared the epidemic to be a global health emergency, acknowledging the need for a coordinated international response.
Countries have begun closing their borders to non-citizens coming from China, and at least 24 provincial-level authorities in China have told businesses to stay closed until February 10 or later, which will have a massive impact on the economy.
Under these dire circumstances, entertainment and brand marketing activities have taken a backseat and new campaigns that do not take the coronavirus into account could be perceived as being in poor taste. Instead, domestic and global companies are joining the national fight against the outbreak. Chinese tech firms have been leading the efforts by contributing large amounts of cash and resources, but a growing number of foreign brands are getting involved, particularly with efforts to support Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.
In terms of financial support, Alibaba has been leading the ranks of donors with the establishment of a RMB 1.1 billion ($160 million) fund for medical supplies. Tencent and Baidu follow with commitments of RMB 300 million ($43.2 million) each, while Bytedance, delivery service Meituan and the real estate-focused Evergrande Group are each contributing RMB 200 million ($29 million). Bytedance also offered RMB 100,000 ($14,400) to any healthcare workers who are infected on the job, and up to RMB 1 million ($144,000) to those who make “outstanding contributions or efforts” in fighting the coronavirus. Platforms such as Alibaba, Sina Weibo and Kuaishou have also created fundraising campaigns for users to donate to Wuhan, and eleven other companies have pledged at least RMB 100 million ($14.4 million) apiece.
Overseas brands that depend heavily on the Chinese market for growth would be remiss to wait on the sidelines while the current crisis unfolds. While overt promotion of products can backfire, shows of support during a challenging and uncertain time are appreciated.
Dao Nguyen, founder of marketing consultancy Essenzia, told Jing Daily that “generating ’emotional engagement’ goes both ways…. Brands who are able to promptly voice support and act on it demonstrate sincere empathy and care. It can go a long way to fuel mutual understanding and bonding.”
On January 27, French luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy — parent of Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Christian Dior, among others — announced a RMB 16 million (US$2.3 million) donation to the Chinese Red Cross Foundation, along with plans to work with the Red Cross in Europe to gather supplies to send to Wuhan. A day later, rival Kering Group, which owns luxury labels Gucci, Saint Laurent and Balenciaga, pledged RMB 7.5 million ($1.1 milloin) to the Hubei chapter of the Red Cross Foundation.
“Our thoughts are with the many impacted by the novel coronavirus outbreak, and therefore we have decided to donate the funds as an immediate contribution to assist,” Kerig Group CEO François-Henri Pinault told WWD.
Other major foreign brand donors include L’Oréal, Dell, Microsoft, PepsiCo, Shell, Procter & Gamble, Apple, and Estee Lauder. Brands are also providing supplies and in-kind support. For example, Nestle and several brands under its umbrella are providing RMB 40 million ($5.7 million) in cash and products to Wuhan, focusing on bottled water, milk powder and nutritious cereals, while Yum BrandsYum Brands China, which operates the KFC and Pizza Hut chains in the country, is providing free meals to Wuhan hospital workers.
China’s tech firms are employing their extensive resources — from cloud computing to AI to genetic sequencing — to help with the critical task of finding effective treatment for the coronavirus, as well as helping those beyond the front lines.
The central government has encouraged citizens not to venture out, schools remain closed and many companies have told employees to work from home. China’s tech giants are responding by offering an increasing number of services for free to ease the burdens. Meituan launched “contactless” delivery services in 184 cities and is waiving merchant fees (as is Alibaba’s Koubei), while Netease, Tencent and other online education providers are making courses available for free so that students can keep up with their studies.
Top Chinese celebrities, almost all of whom play key roles in the country for international brands, have also been actively involved by making pledges, collecting supplies and sharing videos to express support for those in Wuhan and provide information on virus prevention measures. On the content front, Kris Wu, Yang Mi and other popular stars are appearing in music videos that feature a reworked charity song from 1986, while video platforms are increasing their original offerings, such as Xigua Video’s interactive Q&A program “Number One Hero” (头号英雄), launched under the direction of the National Radio and Television Administration’s Internet Office.