Marketing Briefing: ‘Safety Dance’: Why brand messaging is pivoting between caution and convenience in the face of the Delta variant

The lead image shows an illustration of three people building a question mark.

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 →

If you ask marketers and agency execs how the continued rise of the Delta variant is affecting marketing messages now, you’ll probably hear that there is a resigned focus on safety and solutions in the face of ongoing uncertainty as opposed to the ‘we’re in this together’ creative rife throughout the first chapters of the pandemic.

As one creative agency CCO put it, “we’re out of the ‘connected messaging’ fog now.” 

“We’ve got a phrase here that we’ve got to keep our head on a swivel to make sure we’re watching at all times for what’s happening with Covid, the variants and how guests are feeling at our restaurants,” said Denny’s CMO John Dillion. “Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been focused on consumer needs of value, comfort, convenience and reassurance. Reassurance has really emerged [as a priority] to make sure guests know it’s safe to eat at Denny’s.” 

Denny’s isn’t the only brand leaning into safety messaging as the Delta variant has continued to rise. In December 2020, Alaska Airlines worked with Mekanism to create a lighthearted spot featuring the Men Without Hats tune “Safety Dance” to show how the airline was handling safety. That ad is making a comeback, according to Lisa Zakroff, managing director at Mekanism. 

“The video aimed to not just show how clean our planes were but to get people to trust that their fellow-fliers were following the rules,” said Zakroff. “The campaign was so successful — and because of continued COVID-19 concerns — we are now running the spot in new markets who have not seen it before.”

By working to reassure customers that planes or restaurants may be safe to be in, some brands are aiming to keep consumer concerns at bay. At the same time, other brands are touting convenience — i.e. using the retail app to order products for buy online/pick-up in person or free shipping — rather than safety to address consumer concerns without having to directly address the Delta variant. 

“Brands are not only using the safety message of being safe, but also the convenience element,” said Albert Moufarrij, CMO at digital agency MACH9. “It depends on the hierarchy of the messaging; some customers prefer convenience over safety.” 

Even so, some say that there are brands that would like to ignore the rise of the Delta variant altogether. “My sense is that there is ‘Delta variant denial,’” noted one agency exec, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It feels like business as usual with a lot of mandates out there. I think that as trips get canceled, airlines and hotels will ramp up [reassurance and safety] messaging.”

3 Questions With Cloud Paper’s head of partnerships Sarah Vincenti

How is Cloud Paper thinking about a return to the office?

When we were first looking at office options last year, we really wanted a “center of gravity” or a hub for creative thinking and collaboration, even as the world shifted to remote. Now that the team is fully vaccinated, and local businesses are opening back up, we get together when we can for in-person brainstorms and meetings a few times per week. We will continue to be remote friendly, but provide options for employees like a central hub in Seattle and co-working spaces for remote team members. We don’t have any hard and fast rules — we want employees to be as comfortable as they can be, and that might mean different things to each person.

How does remote work affect company culture?

Cloud Paper, a direct-to-consumer toilet paper brand, has always had an open and collaborative culture. We’ve adopted a hybrid model between remote work and in-office work, so although we might not be physically all in the office as much as before, we take advantage of our time together to work collaboratively. This open culture has manifested itself in many ways, from internal decision making to dialogue with our customers. We stay on top of who our customers are and what they need through support, surveying and talking directly to them. This helps us understand their drives and needs, which enables us to refine and evolve our brand marketing message. 

How has Cloud Paper managed remote work in terms of hiring talent, creative work, etc.?

The prevalence of remote work has allowed us to expand our teams in ways that we didn’t originally anticipate. We’ve adopted a hybrid model where our headquarters are based in Seattle, but now have remote sites. Six months ago, I was a remote contractor helping Cloud Paper build up their marketing org, and now I’m one of two full-time employees based outside of HQ. As we continue to grow, we’ll be on the lookout for diverse, driven talent in Seattle and beyond. — Kimeko McCoy

By the Numbers

The role of influencers has become an increasingly important piece of the marketer’s playbook. Countless brands ranging from the likes of Ace Hardware to WebEx have launched influencer marketing efforts with many of them prioritizing the TikTok in hopes to expand reach to Gen Z audiences. But while advertisers are busy peddling influencers, new research from tech company Bazaarvoice shows that shoppers don’t always trust large scale influencers, including celebrities like Kim Kardashian or social media stars like Addison Rae. Find more details from the report below:

  • 56% of survey respondents said everyday social media users are the type of influencer they followed the most, followed by celebrities (34%), subject matter experts (29%) and social media stars (25%).
  • When asked if they trust influencer content more now that advertising rules have been implemented across social media platforms, only 36% of consumers said yes.
  • 18% of consumers trust sponsored content, while just 9% of respondents believe social media stars share genuine content. — Kimeko McCoy

Quote of the Week

“I’d be lying to you if [I said we] think we have the answer just yet. Right now, we’re just trying to figure out what is actually working.”

— Diarrha N’Diaye, founder of clean beauty brand Ami Colé, on managing the impact of iOS 14 on paid social media advertising.

What We’ve Covered

More in Marketing

In the marketing world, anime is following in the footsteps of gaming

As marketers look to take advantage of anime’s entry into the zeitgeist, they might be wise to observe the parallels between the evolution of anime as a marketing channel and the ways brands have learned to better leverage gaming in recent years. 

With the introduction of video ads and e-commerce, Roblox looks to attain platform status

Roblox is expanding into more areas than just ads in 2024. Much like platforms such as Amazon and Facebook have transcended their origins to evolve from their origins as online marketplaces and social media channels, Roblox is in the midst of a transformation into a platform for all elements of users’ virtual lives.