Progressive Corp.’s advertising team met several weeks ago to plan a coming commercial that shows the insurance giant’s pitchwoman, Flo, fleeing a bowling alley to help someone whose car was mangled by a falling basketball hoop.
A debate broke out on the video call over a sensitive issue: Should the characters in the spot be wearing masks?
It is the sort of discussion advertisers are having in 2020. Marketing is about telling consumers a story. For the better part of the year, companies have struggled to determine what story to tell and tone to strike—and whether spending on ads now is even a good idea—amid an unprecedented global health crisis.
Madison Avenue has always been mindful of the nation’s mood, airing patriotic ads during wartime and nostalgic spots with vintage jingles during recessions to remind consumers they have come through bad times before. Being in sync with the national psyche