Ice Breakers Pairs Mints With Masks During Pandemic
Face masks emerged as a new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic, and consumers likely didn’t anticipate the “mask breath” that can come along with them. The Hershey Co.’s Ice Breakers mint and gum brand uncovered this insight thanks to a company employee and a member of his family who works in the healthcare system.
In response, the company created a lighthearted campaign that initially thanks consumers for wearing a mask when around others, but also cautions them to think about the possibility of the consequences of their own bad breath.
The company encourages consumers to #MintBeforeYouMask with a national effort that centers on a 15-second TV spot that began running on May 18 and also appears across social channels. The ad, which took less than two weeks to create, was concepted, developed and executed by Hershey’s in-house agency, C-Sweet.
The brand team embraced the insight and initial ideas very quickly – literally, over a weekend. Michelle Villarroel, director of sweets, refreshment, snacks and grocery at Hershey, says the way the organization is structured with its in-house agency made it all possible. “When you have something that you’re very excited about and was so right for the time, there were no formalities. We just went as quickly as we could.”
According to company reports in April, demand for mint and gum dropped 40% to 50%, in a category that is very functional, says Villarroel. “When consumers were staying home and practicing social distancing, the need for fresh breath and confidence when interacting with others simply didn’t exist.” She adds that sales began to recover as U.S. states started to open up. The team looked to adjust some of its media spend, based on which brands within the broader Hershey portfolio could better use some of that funding. “Upon the development of the campaign, we made a call and 100% of our media is now focused on ‘Mint Before You Mask,’” she says.
As head of C-Sweet, Ryan Riess says he didn’t need a brief to understand where the business stood in terms of sales or about the functional benefit of mint and gum as well as breath confidence. “Consumers’ needs are changing and we’re constantly looking for the consumer insights that can help and also deliver the business,” says the senior director of social strategy & content.
“This notion of mask breath was very compelling,” Riess says. “It was a real insight, is a real behavior, is new and different and it’s something that our product can deliver against.” A strong knowledge of the business, coupled with extensive research about consumer behavior changing during this time, allowed Villarroel and Riess and their teams “to move really quickly and with confidence,” Riess says.
Villarroel says the team actively monitored COVID-19 developments as well as how consumers were reacting to the creative once it began running. “Our hope is that the lightbulb will go off for them as well, like it did for us. If not, when they start to wear a mask, they’ll realize that mask breath is real,” she says, adding that early feedback pointed to positive consumer response, and the company will continue running the campaign for as long as it’s relevant.
“At a time when consumer behavior is rapidly changing, we need to be as agile as possible, but with many limitations such as our inability to shoot a commercial, being more creative and finding creative solutions is just as important,” says Villarroel. “What Ryan and C-Sweet did to bring this insight to life was simply brilliant.”