Advertising During the COVID-19 Pandemic – What Brands Should Avoid

Whether these three brands will set a precedent for other brands to avoid a consumer backlash over rising concerns about the virus, remains to be seen.

As the Coronavirus crisis continues to unfold, our daily lives and how we live them are under increased scrutiny. Especially our hands, those trusty old homes to the opposable thumb that we have now been told must be given their soapy due for at least 20 seconds and are best kept not only away from others (a classic dictate) but also away from ourselves.

In reaction to this hands-off life we now live, brands have had to readjust their marketing if it has anything to do with what might be perceived as improper use of hands. And as Hershey and Coors have decided, hugs are touchy subjects, as is working from home.

KFC Halts Finger Lickin’

First up on the metacarpal cutting block is KFC. This week it pulled its recently relaunched Finger-Lickin’ Good slogan which was part of a campaign in the UK that has driven a reported 163 people to complain that it was inappropriate in the time of Coronavirus.

Since the campaign kicked off two weeks ago, people complained to the Advertising Standards Authority about the “Finger-Lickin’ Good” ads, causing KFC to hit the pause button.

“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.

Hersey’s Hugs & Handshakes Hampered

Hersey’s has also decided to pull new ads in a campaign that showed people shaking hands and hugging. The ads featuring hugging Bob Williams are still up on YouTube, however. How can you not love Bob?

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.”

Coors Cancels Ad About Working Remotely

With so many people actually being forced to work remotely from home, American beer brand, Coors, has decided to stop an upcoming March Madness campaign pitching Coors Light as the “Official Beer of Working Remotely.” The company decided that people might perceive the ad as making light of people who self-quarantine or work from home due to company policy.

In a statement, Molson Coors CMO Michelle St. Jacques told Marketing Daily, “In light of the coronavirus outbreak, and the recent development of some companies asking employees to stay home from work to prevent further spread of the virus, we have made the decision to suspend the Coors Light ‘Official Beer of Working Remotely’ March hoops spot,” going on to say that “While this was a tough decision, we believe it is the right one given the serious concerns about the outbreak across the country. The last thing we want is for our communication to seem insensitive or be misinterpreted.”

Coors, unlike KFC and Hersey’s, was able to stop its campaign prior to launch.

Whether these three brands will set a precedent for other brands to avoid a consumer backlash over rising concerns about the virus, remains to be seen. Our guess is that others will certainly follow suit.

What’s a Brand to do?

A lot of marketers out there now might be scratching their heads looking to come up with the right approach to advertising in the time of Coronavirus. Twitter this week offered up its advice in a blog post from Alex Josephson and Eimear Lambe who wrote:

“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.”

Sound advice if there ever was some.

This article is published through our partnership with Branding in Asia Magazine.