As the World Prepares for a Very Different Easter, Brands Change Creative and Brace for Impact

Despite signs sales may be slow, companies are banking on nostalgia and tradition during the coronavirus

bunny with a protective face mask
Brands that have become synonymous with Easter are adjusting to the reality of a public sheltered in place.
Photo Illustration: Dianna McDougall; Sources: Getty Images

Key insights:

For the first time since 1952, there will be no Easter egg roll at the White House. In the U.K., the nation’s annual Cadbury-sponsored Easter egg hunts are no longer happening, and the company is looking to donate its unhidden, unfound chocolate eggs to charity. The Vatican is closed. So are churches for the most part. In a prophetic twist, British rock band The Darkness canceled their upcoming North American tour to promote their latest studio album. Its title: “Easter Is Cancelled.”

As the coronavirus continues to spread throughout Europe and the United States, it’s hard to feel festive. For those partaking in the season’s festivities, this Easter will largely be confined to kitchen tables and streaming services, sharing Zoom links with grandparents, aunts and cousins. If the Easter Bunny happens to show up, he damn well better be wearing a mask.

Although Easter this year will be anything but typical, brands that have become synonymous with the holiday are still hoping for big returns by leaning into tradition while adjusting to the reality of a public sheltered in place.

Widespread shutdowns and a halted economy have already hurt many businesses, and the loss of Easter will only do more damage to future income statements. Prior to Easter in 2019, the National Retail Federation estimated that nearly four in five U.S. adults planned to celebrate the holiday and spend a combined $18.1 billion on food, gifts, flowers, decorations and other related items. As of publication, the NRF had published only limited results from its Easter 2020 consumer survey, indicating that the data would not accurately reflect what’s likely to happen given the “rapidly evolving nature of the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on consumers.”

For makers of chocolate and candy, Easter is particularly important. According to the National Confectioners Association, whose members include Hershey’s, Mars and Mondelez International, the six weeks leading up to Easter 2019 coincided with $1.6 billion in sales of seasonal items—meaning products tied to a specific time of year by color, shape, packaging or flavor (Easter examples include items in the shape of eggs or rabbits; images of baby chicks or flowers; and lots of pastel colors). That’s more than the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day ($721 million), Halloween ($749 million) and the winter holidays ($1.2 billion).

When tallying total sales of chocolate, candy, gum and mints, the 2019 Easter season generated $3.5 billion, compared to Valentine’s Day, which accounted for $3.5 billion, Halloween ($4.6 billion) and the winter holidays ($4.5 billion). Over 60% of annual confectionery sales occur during these four seasons.

Alex Corcoran, Hershey’s senior director of seasons, believes that while this Easter might look and feel different due to social distancing and people being confined to their homes, families will still celebrate, “making new memories and traditions through their experiences,” he said.

Evolving Easter marketing

In times of trouble, people look for safety and reassurance in things they recognize and understand—images, tastes and sounds from their childhood, perhaps. Some brands appear to be employing this as a strategy. But while looking back, they also have to steadfastly remain up to date with the quickly changing landscape.

In a nod to the familiar, Hershey’s-owned Reese’s is currently running its commercial featuring a chocolate rabbit and jar of peanut butter coming together to produce Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs set to Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” a spot that has been around for years.

Likewise, Hershey’s Cadbury has been running its famous clucking bunny, which has become as close to an official mascot as a brand could hope, on TV and online.

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