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Handshakes and hugs are the new taboo for advertisers thanks to the coronavirus

Handshakes and hugs are the new taboo for advertisers thanks to the coronavirus
[Photo: Toa Heftiba/Unsplash]

In 1982, “Hugs not Drugs” was coined in a sweeping campaign to curb youth drug addiction.

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But today, hugs are the new drugs.

In times of coronavirus, “close contact causes angst…  like seeing someone smoking a cigarette in an ad,” Roger Camp, chief creative officer of Havas Worldwide subsidiary Camp+King, told research firm Morning Consult.

Earlier today, Morning Consult released a report on its March 20-22 poll, titled “How Human Interaction in Ads Affects Purchasing Consideration.” Its findings were either disheartening if you care for human affection, or very heartening if you value life-saving in the form of social distancing.

Fifty-five percent of the poll’s respondents said “People Hugging” in an ad was “inappropriate,” and 58% said they’d be less likely to purchase from a company responsible for such an ad. Fifty-seven percent said “People Shaking Hands” was inappropriate, and 57% said if it were shown in an ad, they’d be less likely to purchase that product or service.

[Morning Consult]
Thirty-three percent said “People Standing Less Than 6 Feet Apart” was inappropriate, and 47% would be less likely to make a purchase because of that.

This new wind has serious repercussions for advertisers. Camp, whose clients include Papa John’s, Verizon, and the Sacramento Kings, told Morning Consult that his team has tossed all scenes that show hands—including gloved hands.

“There were so many red flags thrown up just by showing that glove,” he said.

Alcohol brands are also scrambling to figure out how to market their goods without putting them in social settings. Surprise—vodka shots alone on the couch won’t push product, they say.

Several companies have also been forced to pull ads after backlash over too much human interaction, AdAge noted, such as Geico, whose “Perfect High Five” spot broke social distancing protocol by featuring multiple high-fives and a chain of people holding hands. Critics dragged the commercial on Twitter; “Geico doesn’t care,” a user sniped.

Hershey’s also pulled a spot from its “Heartwarming the World” series, which featured a 94-year-old man hand-delivering Hershey bars to grateful children, and hugging another person.

And Axe pulled a spot, titled “Don’t Overthink It,” that showed a man imagining his smelly armpits causing mass panic in a tightly-packed basketball arena—fans dispersing in fear as oxygen masks drop from the ceiling—which does seem to hit too close to home.

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