Face masks in ads viewed favorably by consumers, study says

Dive Brief:

  • Face masks have been politically polarizing, and their inclusion in TV advertising can be viewed as insensitive unless they are portrayed as an essential part of a brand’s message. Most consumers tend to ignore the absence of face masks in advertising while focusing on other creative elements, per study results that researcher Ace Metrix shared with Marketing Dive.
  • When ads have subtle mentions of masks, 48% of viewers expressed positive sentiment toward a brand, while 33% reacted negatively and 19% had neutral or mixed feelings. Fewer than 5% of viewers mentioned the portrayal of face masks in their verbatim comments about the ads, suggesting that a small group of people noticed the masks.
  • When shown ads portraying people without masks, fewer than 1% of viewers mentioned their absence. However, among that small group of people who commented on the lack of face masks, most tended to have a negative reaction that chided brands like Boost Mobile and WeatherTech for not showing characters with masks, Ace Metrix found.

Dive Insight:

Marketers face a quandary in deciding whether to show characters in ads with face masks amid the political debate over their effectiveness in helping to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic and the loss of personal freedom. Ace Metrix’s research suggests that while most consumers won’t notice when characters in ads aren’t wearing face masks, they do form opinions about brands that show people wearing them.

Marketers need to set the right tone when portraying characters with masks. Viewers reacted favorably to printing company Vistaprint’s “This is not a mask ad” that advocated for the benefits of wearing masks rather than touting its own products. Consumers also had a positive reaction to ride-hailing company Uber’s ad that concludes with a statement about its face mask policy, “No mask. No ride.”

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However, viewers reacted negatively to an ad for home improvement chain Menards that touted its selection of face masks, likely seeing the ad as taking advantage of the pandemic to profit, per Ace Metrix. Its research also found that viewers reacted negatively to a commercial for breath mint brand Ice Breakers that promoted its products for helping “mask breath.”

Ace Metrix’s study suggests that viewers won’t penalize brands whose commercials don’t show people wearing masks, but they are sensitive to how masks are portrayed. Messaging that’s seen as authentic and helpful leads to a positive opinion, while viewers had a less favorable view of brands whose ads had a stronger sales pitch that came off as tone-deaf. Marketers need to consider that balance when developing ad creative that mentions masks. 

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While not mentioned in Ace Metrix’s report, apparel brand Hanes this month started a social media campaign to urge people to wear face masks, which the company sells nationwide. Instead of taking a hard-sell approach, Hanes worked with influencers to show how they wear face masks in different settings, such as going to a drive-in movie. Hanes also donated 1 million of its masks to a charity group that supports homeless people, an altruistic gesture that could defuse possible criticism that the company is taking advantage of the pandemic to sell products.

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