Marketing In a Pandemic: Masks Or No Masks?
Should People in TV Ads and Videos Wear Face Masks? Here's a New Study About Marketing In a Pandemic.
A lot of advertising experts are debating these days about marketing in a pandemic.
Should everyone on camera be wearing a mask, or is it okay to ignore our current reality and project a more upbeat, positive image?
For advertising creatives, there’s no easy answer.
Marketing in a Pandemic
This question came up during production of the latest commercials for ATC Income Tax. One of the spots was COVID-related, about the safety protocols being used at ATC locations.
Which got me to thinking—what are other brands doing during the COVID crisis?
At the beginning of the pandemic, marketers reacted quickly with heartfelt ads and social media content, urging people to stay home and to stay safe.
A common theme: we’re all in this together.
Just as quickly, hundreds of ad messages were taken down because they were deemed inappropriate.
Geico pulled an ad with people high-fiving. Beer companies pulled commercials with crowded bar scenes. KFC suddenly stopped mentioning “finger licking good.”
And retailers everywhere began offering face masks for sale.
Touching or Tone Deaf?
Now, months later, many brands have developed new advertising messages that acknowledge the COVID crisis. Some ads inform viewers about new safety protocols and contact-free delivery options. Others have the same messages as before, but show people wearing face masks and social distancing.
So the question is what do consumers think about that? Are face masks in advertising viewed positively or negatively?
Well, it turns out that was the focus of a study by Ace Metrix. They looked at a range of COVID-related advertising messages and measured consumer attitudes about them.
The results may surprise you.
Pandemic Marketing Study
The study looked at several TV spots offering face masks for sale. Vistaprint, for example, did an ad called “This Is Not a Mask,” and Menards ran an ad called “Stay Safe.”
The Vistaprint ad was about empowerment and viewed very positively. The Menards ad, on the other hand, was negative, seen as exploiting the COVID crisis to make a buck.
Both retailers were selling masks. It’s all in how you do it.
In the same study, COVID-related ads about safety protocols were viewed as helpful or reassuring. Consumers appreciate knowing about touch-free delivery and antimicrobial cleaning.
But what about messages that aren’t COVID-related? That’s when showing face masks was perceived as forced, even polarizing to some people.
When non-COVID ads still include masks, 48% of viewers expressed positive sentiment toward a brand, while 33% reacted negatively and 19% had neutral or mixed feelings.
When shown ads portraying people without masks, few consumers seemed to notice. It came up in less than 1% of comments.
Use Common Sense
If your goal is to reflect reality and appear authentic, then there are times when masks might seem out of place.
For example, most people don’t wear masks at home. Or while they’re eating. Or when they’re alone outdoors.
If you’re a business that requires customers to wear a mask, then of course you should do so in your advertising. You don’t want to come across as hypocritical.
And if you’re filming employees (or actors portraying employees) then they should have masks just as they do in real life.
The Bottom Line
According to the study, consumers expect COVID-related messages to include people wearing masks, but usually give brands a break when it’s a non-COVID message.
Masks should be included when it’s part of the story. When it’s not, people don’t seem to care.
And if you’re advertising masks for sale, be very careful. You don’t want to be perceived as exploiting the COVID crisis for profit.
About the Author:
Harry Hayes is the owner and executive producer at Content Puppy Productions, a corporate video production agency based in Charlotte. Before starting Content Puppy, he spent 20+ years as an advertising writer and creative director.