Corporations have become prominent actors in responding to COVID-19. Within the context of increasing privatization of humanitarianism and marketization of social justice, corporate marketing has played a part in the “interpretive battles” to define the global crisis of COVID-19. Understanding corporate COVID-19 communications contributes to understanding the politics of the global pandemic. This article analyzes companies’ humanitarian communications during the early phase of COVID-19 in Europe and North America to identify how their messages define COVID-19 and justified particular responses. We find that brands constructed COVID-19 as a crisis of expertise and logistics, a crisis of resources and capital, and a crisis of the self. In response to these crises, corporations provide products to “help” consumers to manage the pandemic and to manage themselves. These humanitarian narratives make the case that business has a concrete role to play in solving crises and present individual consumption as a humanitarian act.


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Cite as

Atal, M. & Richey, L. 2021, 'Commodifying COVID-19: humanitarian communication at the onset of a global pandemic', New Political Science, 43(4), pp. 421-450. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07393148.2021.1997538

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Last updated: 16 June 2022
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