The topic of seeking out opportunities in the final frontier has most definitely not left the boardroom agenda in my business the past few weeks. In fact, the word ‘final’ has been loosely been interchanged with the word ‘fatal’. Not femme fatale but ‘Ebola fatal’. The reality is that Ebola is only one unsuspecting, infected person and one flight to South Africa away, whether direct or en-route through neighbouring countries.
Interestingly, I noticed that SAA recently advertised a tender for Biological Monitoring Services, which makes me think that SAA is acting responsibly and not leaving this entirely up to Acsa to manage international arriving passengers.
I’ve always wondered how effective the “heat scanners” are at international arrivals and I am now even more grateful that Acsa has such measures in place.
The key question here is how many other airports on the continent are this diligent in monitoring in-bound passengers. Maybe there should be such a screening device for all outbound passengers at international airports as well?
Focus of my column
Yet this is not the focus of my column today. It’s a combination of campaigns and articles that have appeared in the media the past few weeks and the possible consequences that these may have for individuals and organisations trying to conduct business in the west of the African continent.
The first that I came across is entitled ‘Trending: #someonetellkenyaairways’, a social media campaign in Kenya that is aimed at getting Kenya Airways to suspend flights to West Africa because of the Ebola outbreak.
Other references include @TrendKE (account now suspended) and #ebola. The campaign uses Twitter and Facebook and, in one instance, a participant in the campaign calls for Kenyan government officials to be sent to countries containing the Ebola virus to see if they are willing to be there, and if not, then why are they allowing visitors from those regions to be allowed to fly into Kenya. The campaign page is filled with many strong statements and is highly critical of the Kenyan government and Kenya Airlines.
Power of social media
We know the power of social media and what transpired during the Arab Spring, which began in December 2010 and continued past 2012 in the form of revolutions and civil wars. When are we going to see the use of such platforms to demand the truth of the extent of the outbreak, what is being done and if the trial drug is actually having positive impact on eliminating, or at least controlling, the virus? Where will the use of social media lead to in the case of Ebola on the continent?
Then there’s the IOC banning athletes from participating in the Second Summer Youth Olympics Games that took place in Nanjing, China, in August 2014. Some 25 athletes from Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria were on the list of athletes prohibited from participating in the games. What are the consequences for brands sponsoring athletes from these West African countries that have been banned from participating?
We know that sports brands spend an inordinate amount of money sponsoring key athletes and future superheroes. Where is the ROI on such athletes when they are banned from competing, and how do these brands ever make up this loss?
A closing thought, though, is what would the consequences to China and the whole of Asia have been had precautions not been taken?
Another sport directly impacted by the outbreak is that of football, with CAF having asked three federations to relocate the matches of participating teams to a neutral country, for a period up to mid-September 2014. This is a direct result of the WHO’s call to avoid huge gatherings that could facilitate the spread of Ebola. Obviously, players, managers and team officials will be examined before their departure to ensure that no member transmits the virus.
So what are global brands doing to help address this situation on the continent? Are they dedicating part of their paid-for media to help raise awareness and educate people on the symptoms of the virus, what to do and how to protect oneself from infection? These questions are is aimed at all brands and industry sectors, other than the overwhelming support demonstrated by the multitude of brands and organisations operating in the medical supplies and health industries.
Aid the cause
The multitude of newspaper titles, television and radio channels (and we know that radio is one of the most effective platforms available for reaching the majority of populations) and billboards are all surely available to aid this cause? Yes, there are production and flighting logistics to contend with in Africa, but this should not be a detractor for a global brand to lead the way and step up to the challenge of participating in the real issue.
Why have I not seen any major communications interventions by global brands on this topic — conversations in support of, in sympathy for, and providing relevant and purposeful information to those in the thick of it?
We have seen amazing initiatives on the continent in the past by Unilever and P&G, providing education on various health issues and even eliminating a multitude of illnesses and disease through the simple act of washing hands regularly. Where are such campaigns in a period of greatest need?
Beyond wildest expectations
Any brand rising to this challenge and providing comfort, reassurance and assistance will surely gain brand affinity and loyalty beyond anyone’s wildest expectations!
Could the multitude of national airlines that have suspended fights to and from the region get involved in ways that have never been done before? An industry that is so marginal on profitability and that is so dependent on volume should surely see the benefit of stepping up to the cause and leveraging the power of their brands to make a significant difference.
What we do know is that we are all ever-mindful of the reality of this situation, and that I have made a call to keep my team from the region, thereby impacting on the opening and official launch of our business in Lagos, Nigeria, until we know that it is safe to send the team back into the region again.
For more on Ebola, here’s a direct link to that chat with Dr Taljaard from eBizradio.
This story was first published by Marklives.
Craig Page-Lee (@cpl_ignite) is the group MD of Posterscope South Africa.