Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 25 seconds

As the politicization of the coronavirus continues, the use of masks has become a surprisingly controversial issue. This creates a unique set of challenge for organizations, and marketing professionals.
Firms need to carefully consider how to explain the safety measures they’re taking and any new policies related to COVID-19. That’s because what in normal times would fall into the realm of just public safety, now has a tricky marketing component. At the same time, firms have to also avoid letting public pressure dictate what is best for the safety of its customers.

mask 4982908 640Case in point: AMC movie theaters. AMC, like several other movie theatre chains, announced that it will encourage all moviegoers to wear masks, but only require masks in theatres located in areas of the country where masks are mandatory. AMC CEO Adam Aron said this approach was driven by a desire to avoid being “drawn into a political controversy,” Deadline reports.

“We thought it might be counterproductive if we forced mask wearing on those people who believe strongly that it is not necessary,” Aron said, according to the Deadline article. “We think that the vast majority of AMC guests will be wearing masks. When I go to an AMC feature, I will certainly be wearing a mask and leading by example.”

Less than a day later, after a backlash about the policy, AMC reversed course. “With the full support of our scientific advisors… we now will require that all AMC guests nationwide wear masks as they enter and enjoy movies at our theatres. The speed with which AMC moved to revise our mask policies is a reflection of our commitment to the safety and health of our guests.”

The movie industry has been hit very hard by the pandemic-related closures. As they open, they simply cannot afford the hit a COVID-19 outbreak in their theatres would have to their businesses. Still, in an effort to appease the anti-mask contingent of its customer base and stay out of what is now seen as motivated by politics as much as a public health, the chain was initially swayed to make masks optional in many places.

Organizations not only have to figure out their mask-wearing policies, and other safety measures, they have to decide how to communicate them to the public. For example, does a firm’s policy get a small slice of its homepage and notices posted on its brick and mortar locations, or is it front and center in its advertising. Do you create ads with employees wearing masks? Figuring out the answer to that can be trick and is likely unique for each organization.

Ford, for its part, recently found out this is a difficult issue. “Donning masks is a polarizing issue in some circles, and it appears auto retailing is one of them,” Automotive News reports. “Ford has experienced this firsthand.”

Some of its dealers won’t accept ad content with people wearing masks, while other dealers think it is important to show people wearing masks, says Matt VanDyke, Ford’s director of U.S. marketing. “We shared with our dealer association groups some new creative that we have developed and literally about a third of the group said, ‘If you show people in the showroom of a Ford dealership and they don’t have a mask on, I can’t or won’t use it,’ ” VanDyke told Automotive News. Other dealers said the masks would scare customers away and not accurately represent reality in their market. “It really has created a challenge for us to get not just the tone of the advertising right, but literally just the visuals and how we treat it,” VanDyke told the publication.

With so much in flux and consumers changing their purchasing habits amid the pandemic, many say now is not the time to retreat from the conversation. In fact, now is the time to try to grow share.
At the same time, firms need to decide how much of a presence their safety measures should have in their marketing efforts. In this polarizing times, it can be a tricky balance.

 

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