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COVID-19

Local governments and companies encourage masks in absence of federal policy

Kristin Schwab Jul 13, 2020
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A person walks by graffiti encouraging mask wearing in April in San Francisco. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
COVID-19

Local governments and companies encourage masks in absence of federal policy

Kristin Schwab Jul 13, 2020
Heard on:
A person walks by graffiti encouraging mask wearing in April in San Francisco. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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In May, New York launched a public competition for ads persuading people to wear masks. There were more than 600 entries. The winning ad plays off the iconic “I ❤ New York” slogan with an array of New Yorkers saying things like, “When we show up in a mask, we’re showing up for each other. Show your love for New York because New York loves you.”

California and Oregon have put out similar public service ads. And the Austin, Texas, Chamber of Commerce recently started sending this message: “A mask on each of us is a win for all of us.”

Science says wearing a mask is the best defense against the spread of COVID-19 until a vaccine is ready. But with no federal mask policy, the issue has become so tangled up in politics that it’s become difficult to get that message across. Now, local governments and companies are issuing their own ads to try and unmix the message.

Edward Russell, a professor of advertising at Syracuse University, said public service campaigns can work. Just think of “Don’t drink and drive” or Smokey Bear declaring “Only you can prevent forest fires.”

But masks aren’t forest fires, which most agree are bad. The battle over masks has become personal, so the messaging has to be personal, too.

“The message has to be fast and simple,” said Russell. “There has to be something in it for me.”

He said facts can be convincing, like showing how the virus spreads from one person to the next and how masks can help prevent that.

That’s the focus of Uber’s new TV commercial. The ad shows a series of peoples’ masked faces, with text underneath saying, “When you wear a mask, you protect Jin. Jin protects Chelsea. Chelsea protects Raphael.” The final line: “No mask, no ride.”

“Certainly brands do see an opportunity to strengthen that bond between them and their customers,” said Jim Nail, a marketing analyst at Forrester.

They also want to strengthen their bond with their workers, who in the end have to enforce the rules and take the heat from customers who don’t want to follow them.

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