This paper offers a brand storytelling or narratological account of the Covid-19 pandemic's emergence phase. By adopting a fictional ontological standpoint, the virus' deploying media-storyworld is identified with a process of narrative spacing. Subsequently, the brand's personality is analyzed as a narrative place brand. The advanced narrative model aims to outline the main episodes that make up the virus' brand personality as process and structural components (actors, settings, actions, and relationships). A series of deep or ontological metaphors are identified as the core DNA of this place brand by applying metaphorical modeling to the tropic articulation of Covid-19's narrative. The virus is fundamentally identified with terror as a menacing force that wipes out existing regimes of signification due to its uncertain motives, origins, and operational mode. In this context, familiar urban spaces, cultural practices, and intersubjective communications are redefined, repurposed, and reprogrammed. This process is called terrorealization, as the desertification and metaphorical sublation of all prior territorial significations. This study contributes to the narrative sub-stream of place branding by approaching a globally relevant socio-cultural phenomenon from a brand storytelling perspective.
1. Introduction: background and aims of this study
Lethal viruses are responsible for a long trail and an even longer bodycount in the history of mankind. The Bubonic plague (also known as Black Death) that lasted between AD 1346–1353 wiped out 200 million of the human population, while the influenza pandemic that spread at the turn of the last century reached a death toll of 50 million (MpHOnline, 2018). In a more contemporary setting, viruses such as Ebola and SARS, although less deadly than their predecessors in absolute numbers, still managed to decimate a significant portion of those who were infected. The new Corona virus, named Covid-19 by the World Health Organization (WHO), which broke towards the end of 2019 in the Chinese region of Wuhan, reached epidemic status within a month before being elevated to a pandemic within two months (Escalas, 2004).
The impact of the virus on consumer sentiment became increasingly palpable as the death toll rose in the course of its globalization, resulting in panic buying and empty retail shelves for certain products. This sentiment was reflected in deep-seated anxieties (Holt, 2005, 2012) that emerged in the face of the virus, from a cultural branding point of view. These anxieties tend to ramify towards multiple directions, only indirectly related to the virus as such, ranging from disgruntlement with governmental structures to toilet-paper out-of-stock incidents. The historical juncture at which this study was undertaken, that is, two months from the virus’ outbreak, is of particular importance for genealogical reasons, as it encapsulates a socio-cultural phenomenon at the time of its emergence. Subsequently, the narrative account offered in this paper could be applied in later phases of the brand story’s evolution in what is very likely, based on official reports, to constitute a pandemic of proportions that parallel the influenza that spread at the turn of last century, at least in terms of the number infected, if not of the number deceased.
Covid-19 is approached in this paper from a brand storytelling point of view (Dahlen, Lange, & Smith, 2010; Fog, Budtz, & Yakaboylu, 2005; Hopkinson & Hogarth-Scott, 2001; Patterson & Brown, 2005; Ruiz–Collantes & Oliva, 2015), as an anthropomorphic entity (Brown, 2010; Miles & Ibrahim, 2013; Rossolatos, 2013), with its own brand values, imagery, and trajectory of becoming. This trajectory is mapped with the aid of narratology and metaphorical modeling (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980, 2003). Metaphorical modeling is not a fanciful add-on to a narrative model, but a way of demonstrating the inherently tropic articulation of a narrative text.