The variants have a branding problem

The World Health Organization (WHO) is a lot of things, but one thing it is not is a branding agency.

Take the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus.  Since it appears this won't be the last variant we're confronted with, some may wonder how the variants get their names.  The WHO uses the Greek alphabet to label each new variant that comes along.  You don't hear a lot about each one, because most don't rise to the threat level as the O.G. or alpha version of the virus.

The most famous variant until now was the delta variant, which would make it the fourth COVID-19 variant if we strictly adhere to that Greek alphabet system.  The delta variant emerged last summer between when mass vaccinations were taking effect and when the public health apparatchiks discovered and had to admit that the vaccines weren't as "safe and effective" as advertised.

As subsequent variants emerged, we didn't hear much about those, until the quiet of Thanksgiving week, during a slow news period in need of something resembling news, along with the official kickoff of the holiday season.

When the B.1.617.2 variant was identified, presumably in South Africa, the next Greek letter waiting to be assigned to a variant was "nu."  But, as Tarik Jasarevic, the WHO spokesperson has said, "'nu' is too easily confounded with 'new,'" so they decided to skip that letter.

Next up: "xi"?  No.  The WHO decided that xi just wasn't a good fit.  Was it because the WHO wanted to avoid any disrespect to China's president, Xi Jinping?

Jasarevic said, "'Xi' was not used because it is a common last name."

But of course.  Would they have decided against "the Smith variant" for the same reasons?

Having spent no small amount of my 35-year career in communications on branding issues, I have an idea.  Why not scrap this whole Greek alphabet system and, as Biden says, build back better?

No need to rebrand the omicron variant.  That horse has left the barn, and it doesn't seem to be living up to its fear-mongering potential, so we need to start thinking of a name for the next variant that will justify lockdowns, masks, mass firings, vaccinations, and more vaccinations.  Maybe some vaccine passports, contact tracing, and a quarantine camp for good measure.

I'm going with COVID Plus.  It's simple, it's to the point, and borrows enough of that core COVID brand to leverage the original coronavirus recipe of scary.

After that, the next variant should be called COVID Max.  COVID Max will take fear-mongering to an even higher level, just in time for summer vacation planning.  That'll empty those beaches, hotels, and airports.

In the run-up to the midterms, we're going to need something even more potent.  Something that will guarantee that local election boards will change up decades-old election procedures providing more flexibility and a chance to stretch their own creativity.

Let's call that one the COVID Doom variant.  Hey, go big or go home.

This should take us through December 2022, at which time we should revisit all of this. Do some focus groups.  Conduct some surveys and opinion polls to see where the public's head is on this — and by that, I mean find out what they'll go for.  With that intelligence, we can keep what works, adjust what we need to, but never take our eyes off the prize.  The variant series that launches in 2023 is for all those 2024 marbles.  That needs to be done right.

Image: Pixabay.

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