Crisis Communication In Times Of The Pandemic

by Peter Glassen

A cross-cultural look at Covid-19 campaigns in Switzerland, Mexico, India, Vietnam and Brazil.

For more than a year, the Covid-19 pandemic has posed major challenges to many people, governments and institutions. Times of crisis are both opportunity and risk. This applies not least to crisis communication, because if it is managed successfully, challenging situations can be prevented, contained or overcome.

At the beginning of the corona crisis, therefore, public health authorities around the world were faced with a key question: How do we provide information about the dangers of the virus and the appropriate behaviors to ensure that all segments of the population are reached? How did they communicate the issue, so vital to survival, to a mostly diverse population? Often, it is not only the limits of multilingualism that have to be overcome; illiteracy, questions of religion, social hierarchies or political controversies can also have an impact on the success of crisis communication.

Videostill «Ghen Cô Vy», Min & Erik, © Gesundheitsministerium Vietnam, 2020

What is striking about individual campaigns is that they sometimes tie in with old or new myths of the respective culture. In Mexico, for example, a superheroine fights for keeping a safe distance. Here, the ubiquitous Aztec gods are combined with modern wrestling fighters and become real heroes who stand up for their fellow human beings in everyday life.

In India, on the other hand, Prime Minister Narendra Modi presents himself as a godlike leader who wants to guide his nation through the pandemic. He likes to relate himself to the Hindu god Ram – one of the most popular Indian gods, revered by Hindus as a righteous and peaceful king. But the image of the godfather has been cracked in recent months. If India initially came through the pandemic relatively well, since May 2021 it has taken second place in absolute terms in the number of cases of infection, after the USA and before Brazil.

The example of Brazil, in turn, shows how a president’s controversial policies can divide an entire country. While Jair Bolsonaro ignored and denied the dangers of the virus for months, Brazilian governors and mayors developed their own campaigns to protect their own citizens. Bolsonaro, who himself contracted Covid-19 and supposedly had only mild symptoms, presented himself “cured” and, as so often, as a supposedly “strong man”: “What are you afraid of? […] I regret the deaths. But people die every day, of many things. That’s life.”

You don’t think karaoke can combat Covid-19? © SEMIOTICS.CH, 2021

In its blog article, the expert network SEMIOTICS.CH gathered international corona health campaigns from Mexico, India, Vietnam and Brazil and examined them for the cultural specifics of the visual and verbal signs. The team was supported by its worldwide network of semioticians. Read the full blog post here and learn why karaoke has been successful against Covid-19 in Vietnam.


SEMIOTICS.CH is the Swiss expert network for applied semiotics and intercultural communication. It combines perspectives from anthropology, photography, cultural studies, art history, market research, psychology and visual design. SEMIOTICS.CH provides cultural, design and brand analysis for national and international organizations. As part of a worldwide network of applied semioticians in over 30 countries, it provides insights into numerous cultures around the world. www.semiotics.ch


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