Empty shelves create media space for coronavirus PSAs

Zambezi put up signs that address the hoarding of toilet paper and soap.

Consumer behavior is something market researchers track and analyze in normal times. Right now, panic-buying is emerging as an ugly subset of recent data.

Who buys only what they need? Or who loads the cart with every package, like this Florida couple who cleaned out a Dollar Tree store of all paper goods?

Creatives at Zambezi, the Los Angeles-based advertising agency, created a signage campaign that is appearing on emptied shelves of area supermarkets to redirect people about hoarding goods. 

The "Clean Out Coronavirus (Not Shelves)" campaign depicts graphics of products that are commonly panic-bought, like toilet paper, along with CDC guidelines for staying prepared and healthy.

"We saw we could take advantage of the free ad space that could be used in a contextual way to help ease people’s minds a little bit because people are freaked out about what is going on," said Zambezi Creative Director Matt Sherman. "It was an opportunity to calm people’s nerves a little bit and direct them to a place of good information."

The shelf displays sprang out of a brainstorming session a few weeks ago, when employees were still going to offices. Sherman sent out a brief asking creative teams to contribute ideas for coronavirus public-service announcements.

"You could tell it wasn’t going to go away and it would affect lives in a more impactful, intrusive way," he said.

The shelf signs quickly rose to the top as most everyone was having a hard time finding paper towels, toilet paper and hand sanitizer. "The idea was very actionable and the media (space) was there," he said. 

Last week, agency teams started at their local, mom-and-pop grocers, such as the health food store Rainbow Acres in the Venice Beach area, and the A&S Market in Culver City, and put up the signs. 

Copy addressed the problem and offered a new way of thinking: "Crap, we’re out of toilet paper—but not out of helpful info. Stockpiling isn’t necessary. Please keep a max of 14-days worth of self-quarantine supply at most."

As the Zambezi creatives were readying to reach out to corporate chains like Vons and Ralphs, a shelter-in-space mandate came from the governor. Like much of the country, only brief trips to essential stores are allowed.

The campaign is diverting to social media channels now. Links to the shelving ads can be found on Zambezi’s Instagram account. 

"The idea was to get it out there, get it photographed, and now I am hoping it gets spread on social media," said Sherman.

Zambezi Chief Creative Officer Gavin Lester said this public service campaign was not the only work that needed to be repurposed under rapidly changing conditions.

"Creatively, we are repurposing a lot of stuff out there that exists as our cupboards are full of content," said Lester. "I have huge, huge confidence in our creative department and creative directors that they can make something out of nothing."

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