How Ad Imagery Changed During The Pandemic

When COVID-19 evolved into a global pandemic in early 2020, agencies and their clients quickly pivoted to address the crisis in ads.

Images of smiles and mouths were at an all-time high when the U.S. declared a public-health emergency in February 2020. As of this summer, such images still haven’t returned to pre-pandemic levels, according to research from Pattern89 which uses AI to analyze a global database. 

The company found that “Human connection” imagery dropped 30% in one day after Tom Hanks posted that he and his wife contracted COVID-19. That was in mid-March of last year.

From March to October of 2020 the word “mask” jumped 49% across advertising headline copy globally, per the Pattern89 analysis.

During that time, the company also found:

The mask emoji icon in ad copy increased 181% while the word “mask” in ad copy soared 995%. The term “Face Mask” also skyrocketed exponentially.



During the same period, images of smiles fell 21%.

And when the FDA issued emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine in December 2020, imagery of mouths in ads was at its lowest: 52% less than at the start of the pandemic.

The word “mask” in ad headlines continued to increase, going up 21% since October to June of this year.

In early January 2021, as caseload numbers reached record highs in the U.S., the word “safety” was at its lowest level, dropping 97% in use across ad headlines compared to March 2020.

As vaccines became widespread and case numbers started to drop from January to June 2021, “mask” in ad headlines dropped 84%, “safety” in headlines increased 37% and images of smiles rose 22%.

No doubt the country has made much progress battling COVID since January and the closer we get to herd immunity, I think you’ll see that smile imagery climb even higher. And higher still as other parts of the world make strides against the health crisis.


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