Sales Over Safety: Holiday Ads and COVID-19

Sales Over Safety: Holiday Ads and COVID-19

Shelby Smith

December 25, 2020

This year has been like no other with the COVID-19 pandemic at center stage. Yet, as holiday commercials begin to circulate this season, it seems the danger of the pandemic has been left out of the narrative for many companies. It’s no secret people mimic media; would companies rather make an extra buck off anti-maskers than showcase proper precautions in their holiday ads?

Ford is the most glaring offender with their Built for the Holidays Sales Event commercial, airing on Hulu and elsewhere. The 30-second ad opens to showcase multiple group family gatherings, of course sans masks, to the voiceover: “We’ve been helping families make joy for over 100 years, and we’re not taking this year off.” The voiceover goes on, “So get the family together and make some joy this season.” Encouraging families to “get together” this season is a flagrant disregard for the potentially deadly outcomes of such gatherings with COVID-19 booming across the country. 

On getting the family together, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention said, “Celebrating virtually or with members of your own household (who are consistently taking measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19) poses the lowest risk for spread.”

The rhetoric from Ford in this commercial seems meticulously crafted by Ford to appeal to those looking to throw common sense to the wind this year and express their freedom to pass a deadly virus to a grandparent, preferably in a pickup.

Pandora’s ad this holiday season features a maskless man purchasing a Pandora ring inside a store full of unmasked workers. This man then walks through the town and into the bustling ice skating rink to meet his girlfriend. Not a single person in this ad is wearing a mask, promoting the idea that holiday shopping and celebrations in public spaces can proceed as usual without lives as collateral damage. It’s unclear when these ads were filmed, but regardless it is irresponsible to air them given the current circumstances.

Denver Mattress has a commercial that acknowledges this year is different, advocating for a mattress gift to yourself now that your house won’t be full of family members for the holiday. While the Denver Mattress commercial opens their commercial with a nod to the pandemic, the remainder includes a couple, other customers, and sales associates interacting in a showroom, completely unmasked and not socially distanced from one another. Denver Mattress Co. promoted their “Black Friday Super Sale” without a mask in sight in a blatantly irresponsible show of pre-pandemic ‘normalcy’ that is guaranteed to further the sentiment that precautions needn’t be taken and the season can continue as it always has. 

The simultaneous acknowledgment of the pandemic while flagrantly throwing safety precautions to the wind seems to follow the same trend as the Ford ad: Denver Mattress seeks to appeal to those customers who are ‘fed up’ with the pandemic putting a hold on life and want to risk COVID to buy a mattress in person without a mask. The version of the Denver Mattress ad on YouTube doesn’t include the opening scene about the pandemic. It strikes that perhaps the maskless shopping in the context of a pandemic might only be a regional appeal to pandemic deniers. 

Kroger’s 2020 holiday ad doesn’t feature any real people, so viewers can be glad no precautions were broken for its creation, but the cartoon people filling the animated store are entirely without masks, and the commercial is entirely without mention of the pandemic or how to be a safe shopper this season. While it helps that there are no real people congregating in this ad, it is still harmful to perpetuate the image of normalcy and doing this year’s holiday shopping mask-free. Would it not be just as easy to animate masks on the cartoon people?

However, not everyone is being quite so irresponsible. Edible Arrangement sets a shining example of how to advertise for the holiday season without perpetuating pandemic denial. The commercial features masked delivery people delivering arrangements to snowy homes and families enjoying their treats together from afar over Facetime. Marketing choices like this showcase how seamless holiday commercials can embrace the necessary changes of 2020, should companies put in the small amount of effort.

These holiday ads seem to highlight the divisiveness of a nation this holiday season, as some people would rather risk the lives of themselves and their loved ones than put plans on hold this year. It seems, similarly, that many companies would rather make more money than potentially alienate customers who buy into anti-mask sentiments and the downplaying of the pandemic’s serious nature.

Shelby Smith is a senior double majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing and professional and public writing. Outside her time spent on The Current and with the MSU Writing Center, Shelby likes to read, attempt to author her own works, and rewatch things she’s already seen on Netflix.