Are masks essential to a brand’s advertising success?

by: Amy Blasco

To mask or not to mask? That’s a question on many advertisers’ minds right now when planning new campaigns. The decision of whether to include masks popped up recently during Super Bowl LV, with almost every brand landing squarely on Team No Masks. (Masks are donned by the Jason-Alexander-loving teen and a group of men playing basketball in Tide’s ad.)

So here’s another question: Why?

According to industry experts, there are two reasons. First, mask wearing has become politicized in many parts of the country. Second, Super Bowl ads tend to push the boundaries of reality—something that became even more popular during the pandemic.

“It appears most brands are opting for escapism with humor and other emotional signals that transcend the pandemic, such as empowerment,” Sammi Scharninghausen with ad analytics firm Ace Metrix told AdWeek. “Put simply: While face masks are a symbol of today’s reality, they haven’t fit the narrative or the tone being set in teasers so far.”

Of course, the Super Bowl is a unique advertising platform that involves millions of dollars in creative planning and revenue. What about the day-to-day ad campaigns? Do masks influence their consumers’ attitudes?

Last year, Ace Metrix conducted a study on the impact of masks in advertising. By measuring the number of times “masks” showed up in viewers’ comments about ads, the study found that when mask wearing is authentic and necessary to the story, it can have a net positive effect.

When masks aren’t the sole focus of the ad (i.e. a company selling masks), they have a trivial impact on the ad’s effectiveness. Additionally, excluding masks doesn’t help or hurt the effectiveness of an ad either. Other creative elements, such as music and imagery, make a larger impression on most viewers.

So based on these findings, the question brands should be asking isn’t “To mask or not to mask?” but “Is masking authentic and necessary to our brand?” The decision should be made on a case by case basis for each brand while keeping in mind the goal of the campaign and target audiences.

Here are some recent campaigns Verdin worked on that illustrate this point.

“Keep it Fresh in Arroyo Grande” for Visit Arroyo Grande

This campaign doesn’t include masks, but rather shows a family and couple enjoying outdoor activities at a local farm and park, activities that those within the same household can do safely without wearing masks. The messaging for this ad and click-through landing pages promote Arroyo Grande as a safe and welcoming place for visitors of all ages, when the time is right.

“Love SLO like you mean it” for the City of San Luis Obispo

This campaign does include a static image of a woman wearing a mask in order to set clear expectations for shoppers. However, the main focus of the ad is the economic impact people can make by shopping local.

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