As the spread of COVID-19 continues, the way we live our daily lives has fundamentally changed.
How often did you actively think about when or where you last touched your own face?
Had you ever washed your hands for the full 20 seconds?
When was the last time every grocery and corner store in your area was long sold out of hand sanitizer?
Our current—and completely appropriate—vigilance around personal hygiene and cleanliness is our new reality.
Now, in light of all that, how much does this recent KFC ad from the U.K. just completely give you the heebie-jeebies?
There could not possibly be a worse time to run advertising whose sole focus is slow-motion close-ups of people licking their fingers in public. Since the campaign launched two weeks ago, 163 people have reportedly complained to the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority about the “Finger Lickin’ Good” spots. Which is, of course, why KFC logically announced this week that it was hitting pause on the campaign. “It doesn’t feel like the right time to be airing this campaign, so we’ve decided to pause it for now—but we’re really proud of it and look forward to bringing it back at a later date,” a spokesperson told The Drum.
Meanwhile in the U.S., Coors Light announced that it was stopping an upcoming March Madness-aimed campaign boasting that the beer was the “Official Beer of Working Remotely,” amid concerns it looked like it was both taking advantage and making light of the precautions many companies are now taking in mandating working from home.
Meanwhile, Hershey’s is playing it very cautious, pulling a few new ads that simply had a few people shaking hands and hugging. Hershey Co. chief marketing officer Jill Baskin told AdAge, “Sadly, we have decided to temporarily replace two of our ads that feature human interaction, that include hugging and handshakes, due to the current sensitivities surrounding the COVID-19 virus. At this time, our ads have been replaced with product-centric spots.”
Advertising in the time of COVID-19
So what are advertisers supposed to do in a time of serious concern? Taking precautions not to look insensitive, creepy, or opportunistic is the first obvious step. On that note, Hershey, Coors Light, and KFC rank chronologically on a scale of Just In Case to Oh Hell Yeah, Stop Immediately. As Twitter’s Alex Josephson and Eimear Lambe wrote in a blog post yesterday, “Let’s be clear, this is not a ‘marketing opportunity’ to capitalize on, and we do not recommend brands opportunistically linking themselves to a health scare.”
But Josephson and Lambe’s post also outlined the ways that brands could constructively communicate right now. Consumer behavior is still a thing, and we all still have various wants and needs. The best way that brands can address this—whether on Twitter or not—is to know themselves and the tone and personality with which they typically interact with people, and use that in a way that’s respectful and helpful. How can your product help? And when you figure that out, don’t hammer it home. This is a time for the restraint of a soft sell.
Slack, for example, did it when there was an increase in companies instituting work-from-home policies.
Thinking about how to make it work with your team working remotely right now? So are we. https://t.co/bBAjIW9xOM
— Slack (@SlackHQ) March 4, 2020
Netflix is known for its robust interaction with fans, and it’s kept that up, while not explicitly pointing out that there may be a lot more people streaming in the middle of a weekday as this crisis continues. Of course, when it came to the hand-washing lyrics meme, the brand couldn’t help itself.
Oh honey, I'll do anything for you.
So wash your hands. pic.twitter.com/aT4FcFX1Df
— Netflix US (@netflix) March 10, 2020
It’s also impossible to ignore the fact that people are joking about all of this—just witness the memes around working-from-home advice. Brands can participate in the levity, as long as it’s not insulting and is consistent with its voice and tone used long before now. Steak-Umm, for example, has unsurprisingly managed to keep its sense of humor.
life is full of uncertainty and mystery. the more we learn the more we realize how little we know. in times of doubt and existential angst it’s comforting to know one thing for sure: frozen beef sheets are good
— Steak-umm (@steak_umm) March 11, 2020
Depending on how long the coronavirus crisis continues, we’ll see a lot more than advertisers simply adjusting the content of their ads to read the cultural room. As with Hollywood, the travel restrictions and social distancing have the potential to wreak havoc on existing production schedules for new ads. So we may be seeing more recycled work if increased global precautions continue.
Coors Light’s entire “Made to Chill” campaign, now running for more than a year, is already perfectly suited to social distancing.