The Infodemic: How Coronavirus Fears are Affecting Business and Advertising

How much do you know about the Coronavirus (COVID-19)? If you’re getting your information from social media alone, chances are it could be false.

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“There is a term that has been coined for this — infodemic,” says JWU College of Business associate professor Oscar Chilabato. “It’s the spread of misinformation using social media and other channels.” 

This “infodemic” has produced everything from conspiracy theories about how COVID-19 was developed to wildly unsafe “cures” for the virus (you should not drink bleach!). The dangers of misinformation have never been clearer, which is why Chilabato is encouraging students to learn from recent events and also help others seek out factual information.

“In my Advertising Portfolio class, one of the assignments for the students is to develop an awareness campaign regarding the misinformation that has spread via the media — and especially social media,” Chilabato said. “The students will develop a mini-campaign that warns others about spreading information that is not factual or true, and just sticking to the facts.”

The spread of COVID-19 has led to event cancellations, suspended seasons for professional sports and even entire countries shutting down. These preventative measures are not only instilling fear but also impacting businesses and even advertising campaigns. 

Hershey pulled ads that showed people hugging, handshaking and kissing,” Chilabato shared. “Coors Light also pulled commercials that advertised their brand as the 'stay at home from work' brand.

These weren’t the only brands to pull their campaigns for fear of being insensitive to the outbreak. KFC’s new “Finger Lickin’ Good” campaign, which featured diners licking their fingers as they ate fried chicken, was also pulled amid complaints it was “irresponsible” to promote people putting their fingers in their mouth during a pandemic.

Advertising analysts are looking ahead to gauge what the impact could be for global ad spending if COVID-19 continues to spread. But, many businesses are already feeling the effect.

You can stay updated on the most recent COVID-19 news, get tips on how to prevent illness and view the number and location of cases at the Center for Disease Control's COVID-19 webpage. And, for more updates and information on what’s happening at every JWU campus, please visit our Coronavirus Updates page.