Hugging, kissing and holding hands are all a no-no in the physical world now, as people keep their distance to prevent further spread of the coronavirus, habits that appear to be spilling over into digital advertising imagery.

Advertisers in the US are now 30% less likely than before to use images showing close personal contact in their digital ads, according to research by marketing technology company Pattern89.

It used machine learning to track how advertising had changed since March 12, when the pandemic hit US shores, AdWeek reported.

Pattern89 founder and CEO R.J. Taylor said the 30% drop was a significant shift from the usual seasonal fluctuations in the kind of imagery featured in online ads.

“Normally, we see between 2% and 5% fluctuation in these types of things. So having a 30% drop is a huge outlier,” Taylor explained. “We’re seeing patterns just totally get interrupted because marketers want to be sensitive to what’s going on in the world. They also want to speak in a way to walk us through the crisis.”

For some brands, the change has been fundamental; KFC no longer promotes its meals as being “Finger Lickin’ Good”, and Hershey’s, which had been running ads urging people to hug or shake hands with strangers, has changed tack, AdWeek noted.

KFC’s new ads include a clear demonstration of the hygiene practices it employs to ensure that the first person to touch a piece of chicken after it’s been fried is the person eating it.

Pattern89 found that visuals associated with travel, including airports and planes, were also about 8% lower than normal, while those associated with hand-washing have increased sixfold. Images showing people using electronic devices have risen, and 39% of social ads now include a digital device.

The company is now advising brands to rethink the imagery that’s likely to get a positive reaction; crowd shots are usually a winner for online advertisers, but not in times like this. Similarly, Taylor said he expected the proportion of ads featuring video content, not just still images, to decline, given that social distancing restrictions make production difficult.

Sourced from AdWeek