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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.

It’s coronavirus times and “close contact causes angst now,” said Roger Camp, chief creative officer of Havas Worldwide subsidiary Camp + King, according to a new report by research firm Morning Consult. “It could become like seeing someone smoking a cigarette in an ad.”

On Tuesday, Morning Consult released the results of a March 20-22 poll on “How Human Interaction in Ads Affects Purchasing Consideration.” The 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” would be inappropriate in an ad, and 58% said they would be less likely to purchase the product or service responsible for the 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 the product.

[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 public wind has dramatic repercussions for advertisers. Camp, whose clients include Papa John’s, Old Navy, and the Sacramento Kings, told Morning Consult 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.

Some companies have been forced to pull ads after backlash over too much human interaction, such as Geico, whose commercial broke social distancing protocol by featuring multiple high-fives:

“Geico doesn’t care,” said a Twitter critic.

Hershey’s also pulled an ad from its “Heartwarming the World” series, which featured a 94-year-old man distributing Hershey bars to children by hand, and hugging another person, AdAge noted.

And Axe pulled a spot titled “Don’t Overthink It” that showed a man imagining his smelly armpits causing a crowded basketball arena to disperse in fear as oxygen masks drop from the ceiling, which seems to hit far too close to home.

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