2020 Food and Beverage Marketing Hall of Fame (and Shame)

No one needs to tell us that 2020 was a year like no other. Not only did it affect life as we knew it, but it also affected virtually every industry, including marketing. As the pandemic set in back in March, many campaigns brands had planned for the year were thrown out the window. As brands began to pivot their marketing strategies for the year, tactics and campaigns took shape. Some nailed it while others missed the mark entirely.

Nailed It: Chipotle

Remember the very beginning of lockdown when all we did was Zoom gatherings? Well, one brand that capitalized on this moment was Chipotle. The Mexican grill hosted a series of daily “Chipotle Together” sessions on Zoom with up to 3,000 fans and celebrity guests including Colton Underwood from The Bachelor and NFL player Rob Gronkowski. Tapping into consumers’ need to find connection and relief during those difficult early days of the pandemic, the campaign proved very successful, garnering 500 million impressions and 100 earned media stories.

Missed the Mark: McDonald’s Brazil

Another brand that tried to make a statement at the beginning of the pandemic was McDonald’s Brazil, which posted a “socially distanced” version of its iconic Golden Arches in which the two no longer touched to encourage social distancing. The goal of the new arches was to show that we are “separated for a moment so that we can always be together.” Many perceived this tactic as tone deaf, opportunistic and “award-baiting” while ignoring the way the company has been treating its workers during the pandemic. While the campaign was limited to the Brazilian branch of the company, Americans took issue with it as well, and Senator Bernie Sanders even responded to the new arches on Twitter by asking the company to give its employees paid sick leave. McDonald’s Brazil later deleted the social media posts.

Nailed It: KFC

Mother’s Day was a particularly difficult holiday for many as lockdowns prevented those living away from their mothers from visiting. Surprisingly, Mother’s Day is KFC’s biggest sales day of the year (nothing says “perfect Mother’s day gift” quite like a bucket of chicken, eh?), so the brand was ready with a virtual experience on Facebook messenger for the holiday. The campaign included personalized invitations, event reminers, video chat and digital stickers, which allowed consumers to connect with their mothers over a virtual bucket of chicken.

Missed the Mark: Tropicana

In December, Tropicana rolled out a big campaign targeted at parents who may be struggling to parent 10 months into the pandemic. However, the brand’s #TakeAMimoment campaign received backlash on social media for suggesting that parents should hide orange juice and champagne around the house for a quick mimosa when they need a break. Sobriety groups particularly took issue with the campaign for encouraging secretive alcohol consumption among parents. Molly Sims, Gabrielle Union and Jerry O’Connell had previously signed on as celebrity spokespeople for the campaign, but due to the backlash, Tropicana released a lenthy apology on its social media channels and canceled the campaign.

It may not be 2020 anymore, but we are unfortunately still very much living in the pandemic. I expect now that brands have been living in the pandemic for close to a year, we will continue to see innovative campaigns that successfully (and unsuccessfully) adapt to these strange times.

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