Brands gear up for the great reopening

Vaccines are flowing into arms and brands are nudging us to get back out there. But are we ready yet?

A little over a year ago, advertisers quickly pressed pause on their advertising campaigns as the COVID-19 pandemic reshaped our reality.  

Suddenly, ads showing people gathering in groups, enjoying nights out or celebrating felt tone deaf and insensitive. Brands swung the other way (some would argue a little too far), with stock footage montages thanking healthcare heroes and frontline workers, set to sad piano music. 

Fast forward to today, and the world is in a very different place. Vaccine distribution has picked up, with all U.S. adults eligible for a shot by April 19. More than 40% of U.S. adults have received at least their first dose, according to the CDC, which is leaps and bounds ahead of where we were in the depths of winter. 

There’s a sense of hope in the air, and brands are latching on. 

Budweiser teamed up with the Ad Council on a PSA, released today (Wednesday), called “Good Times Are Coming.” The ad begins with the question “Remember this?” and shows people gathering in bars, at baseball games, concerts and backyard barbecues, set to the song “I’ll Be Seeing You” by Jimmy Durante. “Good times are coming,” the ad reads. “Now we have a shot.” 

Google also released a vaccine campaign this week, using data from its search engine in typical Google fashion. The ad shows popular searches over the past year, including “quarantine,” “virtual happy hour,” and “school closings.” The searches are then deleted and replaced with phrases to denote reopenings, like “pants” instead of “sweatpants,” and “family activities” instead of “pandemic family activities.” 

Over in the U.K., where non-essential retail can reopen on April 12, retailer John Lewis is urging consumers to “come on in” as it reopens stores and other amenities including dressing rooms, nursery appointments and in-person home stylings. 

The great reopening is on the horizon, and that’s reason for celebration. After a year of isolation, positive news about the vaccine and spring weather in the air make it difficult not to want to throw your mask on the floor and squeeze into a crowded stadium — or at least post up at your local bar. 

But we’re not out of the woods yet. COVID-19 cases are rising in more than half of U.S. states after a consistent monthslong decline, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The rise is exacerbated by states such as Texas reopening fully before the spread has slowed down and enough people are vaccinated. 

And while states such as New York, Connecticut, Vermont and New Mexico are leading in vaccinations as a percentage of their populations, others including Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Utah are lagging

Soon, we will hit a critical mass of people who want to be vaccinated. Recent polls suggest 30% of Americans don’t plan on getting vaccinated against COVID-19 at all, more than half of whom (57%) generally avoid vaccines altogether. 

Brands should proceed carefully when implying a full-on return to normal. There’s plenty of progress to celebrate, and “get vaccinated so you can get back to normal life” is a way easier and more attractive sell than “get vaccinated so you can only visit indoors with one other unvaccinated household, and don’t forget to still wear a mask in public.” 

But consumers understand the world has changed for good, regardless of any feeling of getting back to “normal.” Suggesting life will just go back to how it was with the flip of a switch won’t cut it. 

COVID-19 messaging is a balancing act, but it’s one that brands have been walking for over a year. Don’t fall off the tightrope now. 

If all goes well, we’re almost at the finish line.

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