- Hershey and Coors hit the brakes on advertising campaigns to avoid negative associations with the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to separate reports in Ad Age. Beer Business Daily first reported the Coors news, which was announced to distributors in a memo from Molson Coors CMO Michelle St. Jacques.
- Hershey's effort, which was already in market, centered on hugs and handshakes as strangers reacted to receiving candy. The ads are being pulled from air and replaced by "product-centric" ones, Hershey CMO Jill Baskin told Ad Age. Developed with agency Mcgarrybowen, the new spots feature simple shots of chocolate bars accompanied by text and voiceover.
- Coors planned to launch an ad titled the "Official Beer of 'Working' Remotely" around March Madness, but is also pivoting to a "product-focused" spot. The yanked ad, created with DDB Chicago, received a positive response from distributors at a private meeting last month, per Beer Business Daily. Distributors are also pulling auxiliary "Working Remotely" materials like coasters and banners from venues, Ad Age said.
The novel coronavirus has made an impact on the advertising and media sector in recent weeks, but Hershey and Coors feeling compelled to pull ads to avoid potential insensitivity represents one of the more tangible effects on consumer-facing creative strategies. The development is another signal that global outbreak of the deadly virus, which causes the illness COVID-19, might hinder marketers' plans to return to stronger brand-building this year.
The reactions from Hershey and Coors are distinct in some ways. The former had to remove in-market ads with imagery of people engaging in direct physical contact, which can spread the virus. The latter was able to halt a campaign prior to launch to avoid making light of remote work, which is becoming increasingly common as companies close their offices and areas of the world are quarantined.
In the memo obtained by Ad Age, St. Jacques noted that the company will continue to monitor the situation. In any case, Coors plans to deploy a heavy media play in March, likely looking to capitalize on buzz around March Madness. Coors Light aims to spend 20% higher in March compared to the year-ago period, and more than double what it spent in February, St. Jacques wrote.
Marketers have been eager to capitalize on destination viewing events like the NCAA college basketball tournament or the Summer Olympics in Tokyo as part of their brand-building pushes. That bullishness led some analysts to previously project an uptick in media investments for 2020. But the recent shutterings of marquee developer conferences, including Facebook's F8 and Google's I/O, industry confabs like Mobile World Congress Barcelona and deal-making stages like certain TV upfronts presentations could throw some water on that momentum.
Zenith, the ad-buying agency owned by Publicis, recently said it is lowering its global ad spending forecast for 2020 from a previous projection of $4.3% growth in December to account for effects of the new coronavirus.
Hershey and Coors could set a precedent for other brands looking to steer clear of backlash from consumers who have rising concerns about the virus. Both companies shifting to a product-focused approach suggests that marketers might opt to play it safe until the worst of the outbreak has passed.
Other brands have already landed in hot water. Beverage marketer Corona — which has an unfortunate name association — received flack on social media for a campaign promoting its new alcoholic seltzer line with the tagline "Coming Ashore Soon." The company has stood by its work and insisted that consumers understand there isn't a link between the virus and its business.