COVID Limbo: Successful Marketing Campaigns

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Beer makers strike the right balance in ads

We’re all in a bit of a weird spot at the moment. Vaccines are widely available and more restrictions are going by the wayside. While we’re not going to eradicate COVID-19 or even reach herd immunity anytime soon, the major part of this pandemic, the part where it dominates our lives and it’s all anyone talks about, is nearing an end. But nearing an end doesn’t mean over, so there’s this limbo we’re all in for a few months.  

It’s tricky for marketing because advertisers obviously want to encourage people to get back out there and buy their products, but they don’t want to come across as callous or risk alienating consumers still taking precautions. With waiting periods between Pfizer and Moderna shots, plus a week or two after the last shot to give immune systems time to mount a response, even many people eager for vaccination aren’t fully vaccinated. 

It’s perhaps most evident in beer commercials. Sam Adams spots have “your cousin from Boston” lining up to get vaccinated, with hilarity ensuing when he pulls down his pants in anticipation of receiving a shot in the buttocks then passes out when he sees the needle. A nurse reminds him to “continue to wear a mask” as he leaves to go celebrate with friends. Heineken ads show bar patrons wearing masks and tiptoeing around each other, not yet comfortable with getting close. As they go up for a maskless cheers, they make sure to stretch out their arms to maintain 6 feet of distance even as they party. Budweiser and Sam Adams are offering a free beer to people who are fully vaccinated, and Budweiser used the occasion of National Beer Day and World Health Day — yes, they’re somehow on the same day — to say it’s donating money it would have used on a Super Bowl spot to vaccination efforts. 

In subtly — or not so subtly — reinforcing the importance of vaccines and safety measures such as masks, brands are encouraging habits that will allow more economic activity to return faster and choosing a side in a fraught political atmosphere around reopening and vaccines. They’re also invoking tailgates and concerts and all the other large, public gathering we miss and reinforcing the idea that there’s something each of us can do to bring those back. 

Corporations, like the rest of us, are desperate for the economy to get back in full swing and for the fun parts of social life to come back. Rather than pretending the pandemic is over, they’re looking toward the light at the end of the tunnel and beckoning us to join them. If you ask us, it’s a winning play. 

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