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Lo-res_IS099N0W1-SDuring the COVID-19 pandemic, KFC was so conscious of people’s concerns about social distancing and the risk of spreading of the virus that it halted all marketing that featured its perpetual slogan, “Finger-licking good.” Delta stopped all its ads too, worried that highlighting the appeal of flying to distant locations when people felt like they could not leave their houses would be alienating to potential passengers.

But some of those advertising trends appear to be reversing, especially as more people get vaccinated and glimmers of hope about containment continue to grow brighter. For some advertisers, especially in the retail fashion world, this shift looks like permission to get a little crazy and show imagery and content that would have seemed unthinkable during the peak of the virus.

The men’s fashions sold by Suitsupply are, according to the founder, not designed to be worn at home, but if people are going back to work and play, then the company wants to make sure customers remember the brand’s image. Its recent risqué, boundary-pushing advertising campaigns feature couples in extremely close proximity, to put it politely, with few pieces of clothing actually being displayed anywhere. The company made clear in press releases that all the models engaging with each other in flagrante in the daring advertisements were actual couples and that the production enforced pandemic protection protocols.

It still can seem jarring to encounter ads featuring people ignoring any distance, much less six feet of social distancing in masks. Other brands are less salacious, but they similarly recognize that consumers are going to need to undergo another transition, back to a world in which they go to work and interact with others regularly. Thus Shapermint, which sells shapewear, is offering marketing that suggests how its products can help people transition away from sweatpants and comfy leggings, back into jeans or trousers that demand a closer fit and tailoring.

Beyond rethinking what people might be wearing in the near future, marketing campaigns appear to be embracing a more hopeful perspective. Guinness beer put the original comeback kid Joe Montana in a campaign, calling on people to prepare to come back to enjoying themselves in social settings. And Delta has plans for a late-summer advertising campaigns, in which its employees will still be wearing masks, but they will be surrounded with passengers, ready and able (and hopefully vaccinated) to go on their next adventure.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What kinds of advertising appeals appear in such campaigns that predict the end of the pandemic?
  2. When you watch popular media, does it feel strange to see people interacting closely? Will such advertising seem jarring in the future?

Source: Tiffany Hsu, “Spit Swapping, Hard Pants, and Hope: New Ads Envision Post-Pandemic Life,” The New York Times, March 7, 2021