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The 2012–2013 flu season was a rough one, as health care providers—and anyone who missed their chance at a flu shot and caught the virus—can attest. With widespread warnings that the year’s strain was a particular virulent and unpleasant one, consumers stocked up on the true necessities: disinfectant and some little white lies.

The sick sufferers’ misery was a real boon for some companies, such a Clorox, which posted sales increases of 17 percent in the last quarter of the year. Noting the trend, Clorox also moved quickly to tout the increasing concentrations of bleach it had begun offering in some cleaning products, all the quicker to kill off that pesky influenza virus.

Another group taking advantage of the situation has been overscheduled, overworked employees and others who just need a break. With the flu becoming officially in epidemic in some places, such as New York City, many companies have sent cautionary warnings to their workers, asking them to stay home if they are sick, instead of running the risk of infecting others.

For some people, that creates a perfect opportunity for some “me-time,” as workers take a few days, claiming to be sick with the flu, even when they are not. Such behaviors indicate the speed with which trends can spread through a population.

For marketers that can take advantage—whether because they promise to help people avoid the risk of the flu or by promoting the benefits of taking a day at home to rest up—the potential benefits of a minor health epidemic can be nearly limitless.

Source: Paul Ziobro, “Flu Outbreak Gives Boost to Clorox,” The Wall Street Journal, February 4, 2013; Mike Vilensky, “A Trendy Excuse: The Flue,” The Wall Street Journal, January 23, 2013