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Total ad-clipse

Moody College professors weigh in on eclipse-themed ads

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On April 8, a total solar eclipse will cross North America, passing over Mexico, the U.S. and Canada.  Austin will experience darkness for just under two minutes. The entire North American continent has not been in the path of totality for an eclipse since the 1300s and won’t be again for another 300 years. As thousands of people plan to flock to areas along the path, local and national brands are taking advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime event, kicking their advertising efforts into high gear.

Hear what Stan Richards School of Advertising & Public Relations professors Lee Ann Kahlor, an expert in science communication, and Gary Wilcox, an expert in branding, have to say about how brands are using the eclipse in their advertising and marketing.

What are some of the opportunities for advertising or storytelling that brands are taking on?

Wilcox: Southwest Airlines is doing some special flights in the path of the eclipse, and that’s pretty neat, I think. They collaborated with Omni Hotels to offer a special hotel room to stay at the arrival and departure locations. Coming to this part of the United States, you’ll be able to see it clearly and might make a couple of days of experience out of it. The best ad that I have seen is Warby Parker’s free eclipse viewing glasses. A lot of places are giving out free glasses, but to me, if you have an eyeglass store, it says, “Here, come into our store,” which is a great idea. Someone’s going to come into the location to get the glasses, and then you might shop or become more aware of the brand. I think it’s a good activation for them.

Warby Parker is giving away free ISO-certified eclipse glasses ahead of the total solar eclipse Monday. Photo credit: Warby Parker.

Kahlor: Because I research science communication, it is a primo opportunity to get science in front of people. You’ll see an end-to-end opportunity to demonstrate an appreciation for science. I haven’t seen a copious amount of advertising in pop culture media. But what I have seen is that lots of institutions like The University of Texas, public radio, government websites and public school systems are positioning the eclipse as something important to their institution. Some of the public schools are canceling classes that day, or some of them are going to have some activity for the students to do. They all see this as a really important opportunity to connect their institution with this important event.

FYI: All Austin school district campuses are receiving glasses to give to students to view the eclipse. They also have a list of activities about the eclipse for teachers and students to pick from for different grade levels. UT Austin is holding a communitywide celebration with 16 viewing locations on campus, along with free snacks, music and burnt orange eclipse glasses.

Why do you think it’s important that brands or institutions try to associate themselves with these types of historic events?

Wilcox: It’s a fleeting experience. I think if it matches the product, it’s a good idea. I think with the Chiquita banana ad during the partial solar eclipse in 2017, it looked like a banana and that worked. It depends on what their key performance indicators are, what they’re trying to do and what they’re trying to achieve with it. If it’s brand recognition, that I’m sure goes a long way. Or if it’s brand loyalty, that also works. If you haven’t heard of Warby Parker, you can say, “Hey, this is a new brand I’m willing to check out.”

Kahlor: There’s just a lot of excitement about it. In a time when our news feeds are filled with wars and recessions, all the things that we’re inundated with, there’s no downside to this particular story. It’s accessible. It’s not particularly complicated science. You don’t really have to understand much other than there’s an eclipse. It gives us some optimism. It’s also kind of rare, and people are intrigued by things that are rare.

Jeni’s Ice Creams releases special flavors for the total solar eclipse. Photo credit: Jeni’s Ice Creams.

How do you think that advertising or science communication can have an impact on these types of events?

Wilcox: Advertising is an effective way to tell the consumer the event is happening. You can also use public relations and journalism to reach people, and we help our students at Moody College in these disciplines understand how to do that from all angles.

Kahlor: There’s a lot of value in talking about this particular scientific event as there’s nothing negative about it. When COVID hit, there were a lot of science stories floating about and also a lot of uncertainty and worry and fear. When you weighed in to those stories related to COVID, there was the risk that you would be aligned with a worrisome topic. This one doesn’t have any controversy. It’s a science topic that our experts at UT can talk about, and we have students and faculty who can appreciate it. There’s a lot of opportunity for fun science communication that helps people realize that science is a part of their everyday lives, and it can be exciting.

Check out some of the best eclipse ads and marketing campaigns this year and from years past:

Warby Parker: On April 1 until the eclipse (or until supplies run out), Warby Parker is giving away free, ISO-certified eclipse glasses at all stores. Their website also has a free download for a DIY eclipse pinhole projector.

Sonic: Starting March 25, Sonic rolled out its limited-time Blackout Slush Float — a “sweet, cotton candy and dragon fruit flavor” black slush topped with vanilla soft serve and multi-colored sprinkles. Every float also comes with a pair of eclipse glasses.

Jeni’s Ice Creams: Jeni’s launched a new collection, Punk Stargonaut, on March 28 to celebrate the eclipse. The collection includes four flavors: Nebula Berry, Cosmic Bloom, Purple Star Born and the re-release of Supermoon. Online purchases of the collection come with four pairs of branded eclipse glasses.

Tiny Pies: Local brand Tiny Pies launched a new flavor, Eclipse Moon Pie, in honor of the eclipse. The pie has a marshmallow filling on top of a graham cracker cookie crust and is covered in deep dark chocolate with a crescent moon of white chocolate on top.

Chiquita: For the 2017 solar eclipse, Chiquita ran several playful ads that mimicked the banana shape the sun created during the eclipse, dubbing it the “banana sun.”

Oreo: In 2015, the U.K. experienced a solar eclipse that Oreo mirrored in real time with one of its cookies on screens across the county. Its chocolate cookie and creme-filled center perfectly matched the movement of the moon passing between the sun and Earth to create a simultaneous eclipse.