Do masks and social distancing matter in 2020 Christmas spots?

Source: Macy’s “In Dad’s Shoe’s”
Nov 19, 2020
George Anderson

New research shows that only 32 percent of Christmas commercials reflect the current realities of the pandemic and, apparently, that’s okay with most American viewers.

Ace Metrix, which tested 125 holiday-themed spots with consumers, found that just under 10 percent of commercials included face masks. That doesn’t appear to be a negative for those commercials as fewer than 10 viewers out of more than 500 mentioned that fact in their verbatim reactions. Those noticing the masks in the ads either felt positively towards them or had no reported change in their attitudes as a result.

All of that brings us to the third installment of the 2020 RetailWire Christmas Commercial Challenge. There isn’t a mask to be found in either of this week’s spots — Macy’s “In Dad’s Shoes” or Target’s “Bring More Meaning to Every Moment.”

Unlike the winning tear jerker spots of the first two rounds of the challenge — Kohl’s “Give With All Your Heart” and Etsy’s “Nana” — viewers are not likely to go looking for a tissue box while viewing the Macy’s or Target commercials. Which one connects best with consumers this holiday remains to be seen. In the meantime, however, you get to vote on your favorite.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What is your critique of the Christmas spots from Macy’s and Target? Which does a better job of connecting with the retailers’ core customers while reaching out to new shoppers?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"I believe brands could still be creative, entertaining, and deliver commercial results by representing the truth of our times."
"Masks are a distraction in current commercials. The viewers all know the guidelines for social distancing and facemasks. They do not need to be reminded every day."
"I feel that both ads are a bit out of touch with their customers and today’s environment."

Join the Discussion!

25 Comments on "Do masks and social distancing matter in 2020 Christmas spots?"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Dick Seesel

To George’s headline question, it’s noticeable now when retailers run ads portraying groups of people in public without their masks on, or without social distancing. I wish it weren’t so, but that’s the situation we find ourselves in now.

As to the two ads in question, I think the Macy’s ad takes the “walking in Dad’s shoes” idea about as far as it can go — or maybe too far — without really selling the Macy’s brand effectively. I prefer the Target ad (realizing that it was filmed a long time before we were all warned against larger indoor gatherings) — because it exudes more spirit of holiday fellowship. It speaks to the Target brand without being heavy-handed about it.

Neil Saunders

I like both of them!

Macy’s is smart because it brings the phrase “walking in someone else’s shoes” to life. That is important when trying to give a meaningful gift. It is also fun and entertaining.

Target’s advertisement is much more upbeat and is very on-brand. It also reflects the wide range of products Target carries and shows how they help create meaning in real-life holiday situations.

In terms of ads reflecting the pandemic: no they don’t necessarily have to. Ads, like movies, are part fantasy. They do not, and should not necessarily, faithfully reflect some of the grimmer realities of the real world.

Bethany Allee

Macy’s knocks it out of the park with their spot this year. It’s a clever take on giving a heartwarming explanation as to why dads everywhere get socks each year.

Richard Hernandez

I guess the commercials with no face masks would be what it would be like in a perfect, pandemic-free world. I like the Target commercial – lots of bright colors, decoration, and lots of people – it’s more aspirational I guess. It is not something we would likely see or do during the upcoming holiday season.

Paula Rosenblum

Well, what are the things I liked about the Target commercial? 1.) It had a menorah in the commercial, paying service to at least one other religious holiday (no “war on Christmas,” please.), 2.) It shows the family alone together, which acknowledges the reality of the day.

What do I like about the Macy’s commercial? Not much. The mask thing really does matter. Whoever the company thinks it’s connecting to, it should be reinforcing the use of masks, not ignoring the reality of the day. It’s out of touch. Sure they’ll be able to use it again next year, but so what?

Winner (in every way): Target.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

Macy’s ad was more engaging. However the Macy’s image did not come across as clearly as the Target ad. I liked the Macy’s ad more, but the Target ad was more effective.

Dr. Stephen Needel

I hate to say it but I don’t like either of them. Macy’s is cute right up until the gift is a pair of socks – couldn’t they have come up with something better for dad given that he spends a lot time on his feet? And I swear, if you listen to the words of the Target ad they actually make no sense. I’m not sure any of it ties into bringing more meaning to every moment. And for those of us who are Jewish, with a nod to Lewis Black, nobody celebrates the eighth night of Chanukah. 🙂

Steve Montgomery

Stephen – I had the same thought. Neither ad was really appealing. I don’t expect to see either being selected to participate in the voting for the top ad of the season.

Kathleen Fischer

I agree – I feel that both ads are a bit out of touch with their customers and today’s environment.

Gene Detroyer

I love the Macy’s add. The downside is that I really didn’t know it was Macy’s.

But I bristle at the fact that the kid goes outdoors without a mask and no one on the street is wearing a mask. During these times, the message of no mask is immoral. A quarter of a million Americans have died! The spot could have been just as good if the participants wore masks.

Jeff Sward

Generic. It’s not that either was a bad commercial. Both conveyed a nice holiday message. But both could have had any of a dozen retailers’ logos attached.

Ricardo Belmar

Neither of these was as good as what we’ve already seen from previous comparisons.

Georganne Bender

I am posting this while watching the COVID-19 updates on the news this morning that’s all about mandatory businesses closures, and the pleas to skip holiday gatherings this year. It’s hard to watch these commercials and not think, “Why aren’t these people wearing masks? Why are they not social distancing?”

I get it, the spots are meant to make us forget about what’s happening outside our own front doors, but I think people need still to be reminded that there is a pandemic going on. I love the little girl wearing her daddy’s shoes – it’s the clear winner for me but, again, she is out shopping — put her in a mask.

The Target commercial looks like every other Target commercial, its spots have had this theme for so long they are starting to blend together. The tagline at the end, “Bring more meaning to every moment” made me think, “Right! Put a mask on so we all can have more moments in the future.”

David Naumann

The Target ad may appeal to more new customers as it has a lively, upbeat feel. However, I like the emotional appeal of the Macy’s ad where the daughter “walks in her father’s shoes” to feel what her father might like for Christmas. Some people may raise their eyebrows about the maskless guests at the parties in the Target ad as many states are now restricting social gatherings beyond the immediate household.

Cathy Hotka

Both ads are nice — and people understand that ads are small fantasies designed to inspire purchases. They don’t represent real life.

Harley Feldman

Masks are a distraction in current commercials. The viewers all know the guidelines for social distancing and facemasks. They do not need to be reminded everyday in commercials.

The Macy’s ad is a clever story that keeps the viewer’s attention through the whole commercial. The Target ad has a much more general theme and does not grab the viewer’s attention. Macy’s did a better job.

Lisa Goller

Macy’s endearing spot shows thoughtful, simple gifts our loved ones will cherish. It extends Macy’s reach beyond Millennial women by hinting that even children can shop there because it’s so affordable.

Target’s eye-catching ad is as cheerful and colorful as its stores. It extends Target’s reach beyond younger white adults by featuring many diverse consumers celebrating the holidays at home. By showing that our treasured traditions are stronger than the pandemic, Target’s spot will resonate more.

Adrian Weidmann

Hollywood, and indeed advertising, thrives on the willing suspension of disbelief. However, given the fact that over 250,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus, I believe brands could still be creative, entertaining, and deliver commercial results by representing the truth of our times. I seems to me that a simple gesture of wearing a mask could, in fact, be giving and sharing the greatest gift of all – life.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

Target’s ad seems like a typical holiday ad identifying the range of products available at Target that can be used to celebrate the season. It is a good reminder ad but I don’t think it really attracts new consumers. Macy’s ad is a clever way to illustrate the idea of “walking in someone’s shoes” to get the perfect gift. The reference to Macy’s is very subtle – in fact I did not make the association until watching the ad carefully for this activity even though I have seen the ad often.

Dave Bruno

Being a seasoned marketer, I understand the desire to create holiday spots that offer people an opportunity to escape from the harsh realities we all face. I really do get it. But retailers are already struggling to keep their stores open because of the pandemic, and wearing masks is a big part of the formula to keep them open. I hope if I were creating ads right now that, despite the desire to offer escapism, I would have the strength of character to do the right thing and put masks on people’s faces when they are shown out in public.

Ryan Mathews

I liked the Target spot marginally better but they should all be masked. How are these chains going to enforce mask rules when their commercials don’t encourage their customers to wear masks? Ah — that’s right — that would be a real store level problem, far beneath the marketing department. So based on that criteria alone I give these ads two thumbs down.

Ricardo Belmar
Given where we are in the pandemic, it’s quite egregious for either of these ads to show people without masks. That said, you could argue the Target ad is showing large households and these are family members (maybe a bit of a stretch, but you could make this argument). The Macy’s ad, however, shows a child going to countless places where no one is wearing a mask. While it is aspirational, it’s just so removed from our reality that it might as well be science fiction. Looking at the story each ad conveys, the Macy’s ad does a good job portraying the “walk in someone else’s shoes” story but falls a bit flat in the end. I get it, kids give their dads socks, yes, but couldn’t they do something that inspires a visit to Macy’s? Socks just don’t do that. And frankly, if you didn’t know this was a Macy’s ad, nothing in it would move you to shop with them. The Target ad has the same look and feel Target has been using… Read more »
James Tenser

I liked the mini-fantasy story better in the Macy’s ad, versus Target’s series of fantasy vignettes, but both of them missed an opportunity to portray a timely message of mutual caring. Group gatherings and other close contact without masks are unfortunately perilous right now.

But let’s also acknowledge the quandary that retailers must be facing this holiday season. While masks and social distancing are expressions of caring they are also obstacles to warmth and intimacy. This year, I think the creative challenge for retail advertisers is show how folks adopt safe holiday behaviors that still communicate love and caring — and of course, plenty of conspicuous consumption.

Allison McGuire

The Macys ad was very clever and beautifully filmed. Target was definitely looking at a younger audience where I felt Macy’s speaks to anyone. In general, I appreciate seeing a mask on people in an ad where it would be appropriate in real life, but I’m not negatively impacted if the advertiser chooses not to.

Craig Sundstrom

Oh dear, the hope I felt after seeing those first ads two weeks ago has melted like an early snow. I didn’t like anything about the Target ad: jazzy music — admittedly it’s a matter of preference, but it’s not mine — generic products with a (seemingly forced) diversity of people that seemed more like a “social studies” film than an ad. So Macy’s wins by default. It was very clever, but quite literally “too clever by half”: it was hard to keep in mind the girl’s transformation, and I kept asking myself, “what?”

"I believe brands could still be creative, entertaining, and deliver commercial results by representing the truth of our times."
"Masks are a distraction in current commercials. The viewers all know the guidelines for social distancing and facemasks. They do not need to be reminded every day."
"I feel that both ads are a bit out of touch with their customers and today’s environment."

Take Our Instant Poll

Which Christmas commercial do you think is the better of the two presented today?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...