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Coronavirus TBWA Marketing

Can Vietnamese brands succeed with Covid-19 like the country did?

By Hesperus Mak

May 18, 2020 | 7 min read

Vietnam has emerged an unlikely hero in the fight against Covid-19 with its quick, transparent, and integrated response to the crisis – recording less than 300 cases, zero deaths, and no community transmissions for weeks.


As it begins to loosen its nationwide restrictions, it has stepped up to play an important role on the global stage – ramping up medical equipment production and donations to countries in need, including the US, UK, Russia, Spain, Italy, France, and Germany – and in turn strengthened relationships with important partners.

It is not just a win for the country, but also a win for ‘brand Vietnam’, demonstrating itself as a responsible global actor, along with its manufacturing prowess. This will prove important in Vietnam’s journey to recovery and revival as it attracts countries and companies looking to diversify supply chains after the crisis exposed an over-reliance on China.

The country’s ‘best foot forward’ approach has generated much good-will amongst its people and the diplomatic communities, but what about their brands? Are there lessons to be learnt in winning the recovery phase like the country just did?

As Vietnam opens up and brands move into recovery and revival stages we’ve observed six cultural insights that were heightened and appreciated during the pandemic, which brands should continue to build into their plans to help them secure a greater share of the future.

Welcome to the makeshift economy

The country has received global praise for alerting health departments as early as Jan 3rd and restricted travel as early as 1st Feb. This can be attributed to years of war that have shaped the Vietnamese people to identify threats early, and become a creatively resilient population.

We’ve witnessed quick and agile response from businesses and communities alike – including an online travel booking services pivot to food delivery; a flower shop becoming a takeout coffee shop, adding flower toppings to make people smile; and ATM’s that distribute rice to those in need, allowing minimal physical contact.

In an under-resourced country, Vietnam’s response showed the world, creative innovation and agility are our number one quality. Now, in an economy where people are tightening their wallets, looking for budget solutions and creative alternatives, improvisation will be a key asset in the road of recovery.

Lesson: Identify threats early and remain creative, innovative, agile, adaptive and flexible.

Make it lighthearted

Vietnamese are optimistic. It seems we don’t have the patience to remain pessimistic and a smile can always help overcome any hardship. From a viral handwashing video to propaganda-style Covid art, the government understood that optimism was key for public compliance and minimizing quarantine fatigue. Being lighthearted is our way of coping.

As society and economy cautiously recover, a sense of positivity will be the best cure. If we can’t beat it, laugh at it.

Lesson: It’s the perfect time to tune into your audience’s interest and inject a dose of optimism. Vietnamese have a huge appetite for engaging light-hearted content.

Get ready to get cosy

Prior to Covid-19, Vietnamese people were very social, enjoying eating and drinking at restaurants and roadside coffee houses while people-watching.

Post lockdown, attitudes have changed and now staying home cocooning isn’t so bad.

As we walk towards a future of frugality we’ve found 62% Vietnamese said they would now eat at home more often, post COVID-19.

People are gravitating towards familiarity and find comfort in that, with family becoming the sanctuary to cope with anxiety.

Lesson: For brands with a history, it’s time to leverage your heritage. Amplifying familiarity, lending a sense of comfort to people. Evoking memories, reminding us of historic cultural moments to stimulate the feeling of nostalgia.

A new digital reality

The global community is essentially going through a crash course in digital education. Our temporary life in lockdown has shown us the possibilities of living in the digital space. Technology became our saviour and allowed us to carry out our day-to-day activities.

In our cash-driven society, non-cash payment increased by 76% in the first three months of this year. In the post-pandemic world, contactless technology adoption is likely to accelerate to minimize unnecessary touch.

On top of that, we’re seeing citizens voluntarily sharing health information via Government-launched app NCOVI, being more conscious yet open to trading privacy for safety (or even other added-values).

Lesson: Brands can educate and support consumers’ transition into new digital behaviour. With events still on hold, brands should look at how to replicate their offline brand experience into the online space. Additionally, consumers are now more educated and conscious of their personal data – its crucial to show responsible, transparent, and opt-in policies if you want to obtain trust. The good news is that once you have this trust, people will be more willing to share data when there is a clear added benefit.

Non-stop socialising

Togetherness is the cornerstone of Vietnamese culture. During the lockdown, celebrities and influencers created content to show solidarity by delivering home-cooked food to friends, and TikTok was where people stayed connected.

The Ministry of Health collaborated with UNICEF launching a campaign on TikTok reminding us all #onhavanvui (Stay home still fun). We’re now experiencing renewed appreciation for real-life moments we were deprived of during the lockdown.

Lesson: Social media regained its role as a connector of people. Like the Vietnamese Government, who has an impressive social strategy in place to mobilise the nation, brands should reassess their social media presence to facilitate community participation while keeping an eye on opportunities to celebrate real-life connection post-isolation.

Empowering actions

Vietnamese are compassionate people and actions speak louder than just words. This was demonstrated during the pandemic – the heroes were not just government and health departments but also 'essential' workers who kept our world running. Grass-root efforts emerge and everyone felt empowered to make the change.

Lesson: People expect brands to lead by example and offer their help. Companies should reassess their brand purpose and use this to guide their recovery effort for the community – never forgetting that actions speak louder than words.

Hesperus Mak is head of strategic planning, TBWA\Vietnam.

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