Challenging Brands’ Calculated Messages of Hope during a Pandemic: Twitter-User Response to COVID-19 Advertising Campaigns

  • Tony Kelso Iona College, New Rochelle, New York
  • Zeynep Altinay Iona College, New Rochelle, New York
Keywords: advertising, audience studies, COVID-19, propaganda, Twitter


Typically, consumer advertising is designed to promote or build brand identity for goods or services. Yet when a major crisis disrupts the everyday flow of life, advertisers often pivot from directly pitching their brands to conveying messages that somewhat reflect the tone of public service announcements. After examining the nature of much of the television advertising produced shortly after the United States was placed on lockdown following the announcement of the COVID-19 pandemic, this exploratory study investigates posts to Twitter to begin to address the question: To what extent did viewers’ interpretations of pandemic-themed commercials either accord with or challenge the advertisers’ intended messages of hope? The results show that targeted consumers demonstrated a greater tendency to contest advertisers’ inspirational themes than to passively accept them. These findings are discussed within the context of advertising’s ideological function as propaganda aimed toward especially active audiences in the age of social media.