Face Masks in Advertising

August 27, 2020


How are brands handling the issue of masks? What do consumers think of ads showing people wearing masks?


COVID-19 has completely changed the way people live, work, travel, and socialize. Mask-wearing, for instance, has become an integral part of staying safe and social distancing. For many companies, embracing masks as part of our everyday life is not only a way to move forward as socially responsible and conscious, but a way to tap into consumer needs during this stressful and unprecedented time.

Of course, authentically placing masks in ads is still a delicate subject that calls for sensitivity and context, as brands could be viewed as exploiting a tragic situation. Ace Metrix, a research vendor, conducted a study and stated, "In order to maximize success, brands should handle masks as an authentic and necessary part of the story." Brands like Coldwell Banker, Burger King, Vistaprint, and Dunkin' have used masks in their ads, often addressing how consumers can trust them to keep them safe during the pandemic.

For consumers in the U.S., there is still a division between people who wear masks diligently as a preventative measure and those who do not — and a mask's necessity is still debated among many demographics. Notably, Morning Consult conducted a study of 2,197 adults between June 9 and 12 about whether they wore a mask or not. Eleven percent do not wear face masks, with the majority of those respondents citing their "ineffectiveness."

Other studies and surveys regarding consumer mask usage cite younger people as dismissive of the effectiveness or point of masks, with an article in Psychology Today theorizing why this might be, stating, "Younger adults have not experienced firsthand the major communicable diseases in childhood as did people prior to the 1970s, when almost every child became sick with measles, chickenpox, mumps, and German measles."

Below are case studies, brand examples, studies, and articles on consumer attitudes and brand reactions.

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Case Studies: Brands That Do Or Don't Use Masks In Ads


  • Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority: "Masks Up. Vegas On." iSpot.tv.
    With the tagline, "Have Fun. Be Smart," the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority video tells consumers that while there aren't a lot of rules in its city, wearing a mask is now one of them and the city is doing what it can to ensure that people can stay safe.

  • Hanes enlists social influencers to urge people to #MaskAround. Mobile Marketer, July 23, 2020.
    Hanes started a social media campaign to urge people to wear face masks to help slow the spread of COVID-19. As part of its #MaskAround campaign, the apparel brand is donating one million masks to people experiencing homelessness nationwide. The brand aims to reach a younger audience that's more likely than older generations to use social media apps like Instagram and TikTok. While there's been a vocal anti-mask backlash in the U.S., Hanes' decision was based on data commissioned by Wakefield Research showing that masks are used by about 70 percent of Americans when going to retail stores, and 50 percent when outdoors.

  • Masks in Commercials? It's an Open Question, Says Southwest's CMO. Adweek, July 2020.
    This article features an interview with Southwest's CMO regarding the decision to not show masks in their new commercials.

  • Face Masks Loom Large in Marketing Landscape. Automotive News, June 7, 2020.
    Donning masks is a polarizing issue in some circles, and auto retailing seems to be one of them, said panelists in an auto industry event. Ford Motor Co. has experienced this firsthand. Matt VanDyke, Ford's director of U.S. marketing, said some dealers aren't ready to accept ad content with people wearing masks, while others think it's important to show mask use. Further:
    • "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 argued that if Ford shows people in a showroom with masks on, it will scare their customers and won't reflect what's actually happening in their market.
  • Coldwell Banker's COVID-19 Pivot. ANA, May 28, 2020
    This ANA case study reports that "Coldwell Banker created customizable social media assets so that agents could honor their own local heroes. Because the ad was filmed in 2019, none of the actual footage was filmed for COVID and there were elements that did not comport with the current environment — such as a health care worker coming home on the subway—but the spot performed well nevertheless in terms of relevancy, likeability, and watchability. In addition to its pivot campaign, Coldwell Banker created masks and yard signs that could be used with customizable messages."

Branded Face Masks 

  • Branded face masks hit the market. Ad Age, April 30, 2020.
    Disney, the NFL, Universal Music Group, and Alice & Olivia are among those placing logos on masks to make fun statement pieces. In most cases, all or part of the proceeds from sales are going toward COVID-19 relief efforts and brands are making sure to state that their masks are not meant for health care professionals and not intended to replace personal protective equipment (PPE).

  • These Burger King Face Masks Can Communicate Customers' Orders for Them. Adweek, August 13, 2020
    In Belgium, custom masks can be had by commenting on dedicated social posts starting in early September.

How Consumers Feel About Masks In Ads

  • Face Masks in Ads: Necessary or Nonessential? Ace Metrix, July 23, 2020
    This detailed study and analysis by advertising research vendor Ace Metrix sought to gain insight into questions such as whether excluding masks offends consumers or goes largely unnoticed. They concluded:
    • Brands are given a break when it comes to including or excluding face masks in ads.
    • Overall, a vast majority of consumers are not sensitive toward masks in ads — or the lack thereof — unless it is the central focus. At which point the general consensus views it favorably in part due to storytelling that builds a brand's stance on the matter.
    • However, masks as a product being sold or using it to sell products can heighten a sense of exploitation among viewers that perceive it as cashing in on a tragic event. In order to maximize success, brands should handle masks as an authentic and necessary part of the story.
    • The Ace Metrix report includes an analysis of ads from retailers Menards and Vistaprint, as well as Uber and Ice Breakers.

Consumer Mask Usage and Attitudes

  • Americans' Face Mask Usage Varies Greatly by Demographics. Gallup, July 13, 2020.
    Survey reports on adults ages 18+ and in addition to age breaks has data points on gender (M/F), education, HHI, geographic region, and political party.
    • 44 percent "always" and 28 percent "very often" wear mask outside their homes.
    • Three in 10 "sometimes," "rarely" or "never" use a mask.
    • Women, Democrats, and Northeasterners most likely to always use mask in public.
  • The Mask Debate Isn't Just About Saving Face. Adults Who Wear Them and Those Who Don't Explain Why. Morning Consult, July 1, 2020
    Morning Consult conducted a study of 2,197 adults between June 9th and 12th. Respondents were asked whether they wear face masks and then provided a blank space to say why they do or don't, as well as how they feel about mask-wearers and maskless people alike. The data was then compiled into groupings to find trends among respondents. The "don't wear" respondents are highlighted in yellow on the spreadsheet in this link, sorted with the youngest cohort on top. Findings are segmented by age (18 to 34 is the youngest), ethnicity, political party, geographic region, and population density of their location (rural, urban, etc.).

  • Why Don't People Wear Masks During COVID-19? Psychology Today, July 18, 2020
    Magical thinking and lack of medical knowledge are some of the reasons why adults don't wear masks, according to this psychiatrist. Why young adults do not wear masks? Perhaps it is because they are too young to have experienced firsthand the major communicable diseases in childhood as did people prior to the 1970s, and are even too young to remember the worst of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S.

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"Mask Usage in the Pandemic: Brand and Consumer Response ." ANA, August 2020.