Marketing Briefing: ‘People are still processing’: Why advertisers are using a wink and nudge play for return to normal messaging this summer


This Marketing Briefing covers the latest in marketing for Digiday+ members and is distributed over email every Tuesday at 10 a.m. ET. More from the series →

In March, President Biden addressed the nation and proposed that celebrating the Fourth of July as normal would be a possibility, should the vaccination goal of 70% hold true. It was a glimmer of hope at a time when what the post-Covid world could look like wasn’t nearly as clear. We’re not still yet post-Covid — the Delta variant is increasing across the country and elsewhere — but people are returning to socializing and celebrating together. 

And predictably, that’s what brands are aiming to showcase in marketing messages and advertising now. Michelob Ultra’s latest effort, which was released earlier this week, featured copywriting about “finally being reunited for the long summer days,” for example. Michelob Ultra is one of a number of brands — brands like Limestone Branch Distillery and Marriott that have new campaigns aimed at reminding consumers of gatherings and travel, for example — giving a wink and a nudge to the return of normalcy in marketing messages now. 

“Marketers always like to connect with consumers who are sharing an experience,” said Allen Adamson, brand consultant and co-founder of Metaforce. “Something unique is going on this summer where we’re not only enjoying summer but a return to normality. There’s a huge shared experience of travel, movies, etc. It’s like a holiday season where people share the same thing during the same time. Marketers always try to connect to that because they want you to pay attention to them and if they are talking about something people are all doing that helps.” 

While brands are aiming to be part of the excitement for a return of normalcy this summer, marketers and agency execs say there’s a balance to strike. Brands don’t want to create advertising that could be tone deaf by talking too explicitly about the return to normalcy, nor do they want to create a spot that could be stale in a matter of weeks like they did with the “we’re here for you” messaging early on in the pandemic, explained marketers and agency execs. 

“There’s definitely that sense that they don’t want to go too far in celebrating,” said Noah Mallin, chief strategy officer at IMGN Media. “People are still processing what they just went through. While there might be this crazy relief in areas like New York, for a brand to talk about it might not feel that comfortable.” 

At the same time, brands want creative that can still be used “even if the moment wears off,” noted Mallin, which makes it more appealing to hint at the return to normalcy rather than explicitly state that in ads for this summer. 

Even so, flicking at the idea of a return rather than simply going back to normal summer marketing messages can help capture consumer attention, explained Brendan Gahan, partner and chief social officer at Mekanism. “With so much vying for our attention, and people looking to make up for lost time, brands are trying to find any edge to capture attention,” said Gahan. “The tractor beam of ‘the return to normalcy’ [messaging] reels consumers in.”

3 Questions with Wendy’s CMO Carl Loredo

What’s something you leaned into over the last year with your marketing that you’re looking to expand or continue post-Covid? 

There are things we want to continue to do that were huge for us in the midst of Covid and we won’t walk away from now, particularly the gaming industry. Gaming is bigger now that essentially entertainment and music combined and we’ve found a number of unique ways to engage there. It’s a place where there’s a ton of crossover to our consumer. It’s allowed us to have a lot of fun, but tell the stories that are important to Wendy’s. 

How so? 

It started a few years back with our Fortnight Fresh program. We found a unique way to create our own characters and jump into the game. Our consumers jumped in with us. [We’ve done some other games] like Mario Kart and Animal Crossing to have fun with the products we have out there. We’re in a world now where we’re in the top 1% of all Twitch streamers — the idea that folks get on Twitch to watch us [shows us] there’s a lot to like. 

What’s the strategy for gaming activities overall? 

It’s not a logo slap or necessarily a licensing agreement but rather [we look for ways to tell people] that we know how you play this game and we’re going to find a way to make the game better as well as tell our story in a unique way.

By the numbers

Brand boycotts have become a hot button issue recently as political tensions and societal pressures swirl. Earlier this year, Georgia-based brands like Coca-Cola, The Home Depot and Delta faced backlash from shoppers after failing to adequately speak out against new restrictive voting legislation. And last year, media buyers boycotted Facebook over hate speech (or lack thereof) regulations. 

While many are aware of boycotts, new research from ad agency MullenLowe U.S. calls into question how many shoppers are willing to sacrifice convenience to participate in a social movement. Find key points below:

  • The top three most recognized were Chick-fil-A due to the CEO’s support of politicians who oppose same-sex marriage (39%), Nike campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, which suggested support of NFL players’ right to take a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality (37%), and Goya Foods, due to its CEO’s vocal support of former President Trump (30%).
  • 35% of those surveyed said a company’s actions didn’t bother them enough to switch
  • 30% of respondents said they like the brand’s products/services too much to switch — Kimeko McCoy

Quote of the week

“When interrogated, it became clear that Google’s proposals raised more questions than answers, with holes of mistrust appearing.”

Paul Lowrey, head of advertising strategy, insight and marketing at ad tech company Azerion, told Senior News Editor Seb Joseph for his story following up on Google’s delayed cookie cull.

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