When America joined World War II in 1941, the government almost immediately instituted a rationing program that limited products people could buy at any one time. But just because people couldn’t go out and buy products like before, that didn’t stop major brands such as General Motors from advertising. Many used the moment as a brand-building opportunity, portraying consumers’ sacrifice—and the companies’ involvement in the war effort—as patriotic. In one 1944 print ad, General Tires actually reminded consumers about a tire ration, instead of encouraging them to buy war bonds.
Fast-forward 80 years, and the country is in the midst of another emergency situation. And while there isn’t any product rationing, over the past year there have been limitations on how we use and enjoy our favorite products. You can watch sports, just not in the stadium. You can go to a party, but it’s on Zoom. You can drink beer, just not indoors with other people.
Lately, more brands have been hyping their products, and how we use them, as motivation to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Uber and Lyft have offered free rides to vaccination clinics. Krispy Kreme is giving away free doughnuts to the freshly vaccinated. And now Budweiser has released a new spot that uses tantalizing photos of beer-drinking good times to remind us what that needle is really for.
Set to Jimmy Durante’s version of “I’ll Be Seeing You” (a song that was also a hit for both Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra in 1944), the spot shows us everyday folks tipping back beers at BBQs, clubs, card games, backyards, and ball games, with absolutely no PPE in sight. It’s glorious. And it ends by asking you to get the facts on the vaccine, tying it directly to the massive PSA campaign by the Ad Council aimed at overcoming vaccine hesitancy.
In January, Budweiser announced it would be sitting out the Super Bowl for the first time in 37 years in order to donate its big-game ad budget to promoting vaccine awareness and distribution.
Google, another Ad Council partner, created a simple but effective vaccine ad of its own this past week, harking back to ads such as 2009’s “Parisian Love” or last year’s Super Bowl spot, “Loretta,” where the search bar itself tells the story. This time, phrases that have become common over the past year—”virtual playdate,” “temporarily closed,” “canceled sports season”—are edited to reflect the language of our pre-pandemic lives.
Budweiser isn’t the only beer company to jump into the fray. Sam Adams went the comedy route with its ad character Your Cousin From Boston, who gets vaccinated to realize his dream of indoor beers.
All these ads manage to highlight each brand and its product, while still putting the primary focus on the broader collective goal of getting vaccinated. This is remarkably similar to the image many brands and advertisers presented to Americans during World War II, which often used their ads to sell people on a thriving post-war dream and booming economy. That’s exactly what’s happening here, where the trade-off for getting a shot is pitched as the most efficient, safest path to getting certain industries such as hospitality back in gear—or just a meeting a friend for a beer.