December 3, 2020

Hershey’s Kisses fell prey to Satan in 2020.

If you’re like me, you had NO IDEA there are people out there whose sanity and well-being rest on the annual appearance of the Hershey’s Kisses holiday commercial.

But not just ANY holiday commercial.  It must be the original commercial that launched in 1989 and has basically remained unchanged, with Kisses doubling as bells that ring out “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”  If you haven’t watched TV during the holidays in the past 31 years, you can see that original spot here.

This year, Hershey’s updated said commercial with a twist, like so: (click on the image to watch)

Apparently, this change ruined some people’s lives.  Snippets on the subject from social media:

  • “I’m emotionally scarred.”
  • “Nothing is sacred anymore.”
  • “There was once a time when I loved the holidays and now I feel terrible.”
  • “FIRE THE PERSON WHO SUGGESTED TO CHANGE IT!!!”
  • “2020 wasn’t the year to change it, we’ve been traumatized enough.”
  • “THIS YEAR CAN GO STRAIGHT TO HELL.”
  • “It fills me with primal rage.”

And those are some comments I *didn’t* have to censor.  Naturally, mainstream media seized on the backlash and made national news out of Hershey’s’ evil decision to ruin the holiday season.

Am I the only one fascinated by this situation?  If you’re a marketer, it’s likely your brand’s recognition is far less than that of Hershey’s Kisses (she says in the understatement of the year).  But if we zip up to the 30,000-foot view of this whole debacle, here’s what you can learn from it:

Consistency and frequency matter.  People are fickle and have short attention spans, and it takes a long time to penetrate their awareness and create meaningful connections.  Your own audience may be proportionately smaller than that of Hershey’s Kisses, but that doesn’t dilute their potential for loyalty.  Keeping your annual marketing campaigns fresh is always a good idea, but keeping a few select elements the same year after year after year can form a bond of repetition that becomes tradition.  Whether this is your “opening for the season” video, or a holiday campaign, or an anniversary message… there are things your loyal guests recognize that strengthen your relationship with them every year.  Marketers often get swept up in the idea of creating new campaigns in order to reach new guests, but don’t be so quick to summarily drop all “old campaigns.” You’ve built equity there that could be harnessed.

Change will always scare some people, so don’t freak out when it happens.  Humans resist change, and yeah…sometimes they can get dramatic about it.  But you’re doing your business a disservice if you lose your nerve every time people complain about a change you’ve made, because you KNOW some will.  Whether it’s a change in hours, name, staff, product, programming, marketing campaigns, or whatever… if you’ve thought it through and it’s the right move for your business, then prepare yourself properly to address (or ignore, if appropriate) any negative reaction.  Related note… if you’re certain the news will be unwelcome, this might help:  Five Tips to Deliver Bad News Gracefully.

Audiences can be unpredictable.  Between the dual social groundswells of gender equality and Black Lives Matter, it’s a safe bet that Hershey’s thought enhancing this commercial with a black father baking cookies with his young daughter would only bring them a flood of positive feeling.  Well…nope.  I guess nostalgia trumps social change in this case?  So, take note:  be prepared for surprises. There’s simply no way you can 100% predict how all people will react to your decisions.

And perhaps one BIG takeaway here is:  just don’t mess with nostalgia during a pandemic.

In closing, however, I leave you with this thought.  Surely the ad agency of the globally-recognized Hershey’s brand has enough research and data in its pocket to know how staunchly loyal audiences are to this commercial… after all, they haven’t changed it in 31 years and I’m sure that was a deliberate choice.

So, did they do it on purpose in 2020 knowing it would cause controversy and therefore get a wider audience and more coverage?  Or did they predict some backlash but felt the upside of the change would be worth it?  Comments on that are welcome… and I’m just gonna sit here and eat an entire bag of Kisses while I ponder it.