Jill Baskin

Candy tends to be non-controversial in the advertising world, but when Covid hit we needed to take a look at every ad we were running to see if they made sense in light of the restrictions and frightened mood of the country. Our Heartwarming campaign had launched a year earlier using all real people, not actors, telling true-life stories. One featured “Bob,” a 94-year-old man handing out candy bars every day in his small town in Iowa. Another featured two students, Mustafa and Ahmed, handing out Hershey bars with inspirational messages on the first day of school. We had just begun running some new spots featuring Instagram influencers giving out Hershey bars in real life to see what it was like to “share” in the real world. We decided to pull the spots because the interaction of strangers, while heartwarming, felt wrong given the pandemic.

We pivoted quickly to ads featuring family members and intimate family only settings. When it came to Christmas, we thought it was a perfect time to update our classic “Bells” ad. It had been running virtually unchanged for 31 years. The time was right, or so we thought.

The classic ad features animated Hershey Kisses acting like a handbell chorus ringing out the song, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Given all the baking going on during the pandemic we decided to combine the original Bells ad with a baking scene. In the new spot as the bells/Kisses start ringing, a small girl’s hand comes into frame and plucks out a bell/Kiss. The film switches to a new scene of her making cookies with her father. She takes the Kiss and gently places it down into a soft, freshly baked sugar cookie completing the classic Hershey Blossom cookie. Adorable right?

Well we were wrong, sort of. Over 300 emails arrived telling us that people wanted the original version back! Most said the new version was sweet, but in this year of change folks wanted the nostalgia and good memories that the original evoked. Many said the commercial was part of starting their holiday season. Our solution was to run both in rotation. We also answered every email we got as we certainly didn’t want to ruin anyone’s holiday memories. Hopefully, this solution will honor those memories while creating new ones.

Utilizing real people in ads makes it easy for us to fulfill our commitment to diversity in our advertising.  The more we reflect the world as it is, the more real our advertising feels. That commitment is why we are part of the SeeHer movement. Gender equality is something we take seriously at Hershey. Our CEO is a woman, the company pays and promotes equally.

What we see in TV programming has a way of changing perceptions. Thinking of the landmark TV shows that showed women in non-gender normative roles. Ads have lagged this programming, and it is time we caught up. When you see real people in ads, when you see women as they really are, it makes a tangible difference.