Mask shaming

Back in July 2020, when the first set of anti-viral clothing started to advertise, it was mocked ruthlessly.

But then, a whole lot of clothing brands started talking about anti-viral this and anti-viral that, right from jeans to shirts to underwear to masks.

While the efficacy of these anti-viral coating is still under dispute and doubt, what is real is that this is a piece of clothing. And we wash and re-wear clothing. Does washing remove the anti-viral coating? That is unclear. Also, when we’re throwing this anti-viral clothing into the washing machine along with other non-anti-viral clothing, what happens? This too is unclear.

What is clear though is that this anti-viral clothing trend is here to stay, no matter how many jokes trend.

Now, there is a difference between anti-viral clothing and anti-viral masks.

Anti-viral coating in normal clothing (shirts, trousers, jeans, innerwear etc.) is a matter of choice. You may trust the coating and buy these, or you may choose to believe in the trifecta of protection in COVID-19 times—hand wash, social distancing and masks—without putting your trust on anti-viral clothing. Still, it is a choice.

But what is not a choice is a mask. A mask has become absolute basic protection against the virus in these times, particularly when you are forced to go out. Governments across the world are fighting very, very hard in setting a baseline expectation of mask-wearing among people, and some Governments have even made it mandatory (with punitive fines for not adhering to the rule).

In such a scenario, showcasing one mask to be superior to another, because one has anti-viral coating and the other doesn’t, seems hugely disingenuous. Such framing in marketing outs commercial interest over everything else, and during a global pandemic that is terribly unfair.

Talking about other aspects of the mask, to promote a mask’s USP, is still fine. For example, a mask brand could position their product to be more comfortable because of the materials used, the elastic grip used etc. still makes it a matter of choice.

But, to promote one mask as being more effective in killing the virus or protecting the wearer than another mask is an abominable claim to make, particularly during a global pandemic when everyone is suffering together.

I’d probably say that simply talking about the anti-viral qualities of a mask is perhaps acceptable too, because it still makes it about choice.

Under Armour, for instance, has been talking about its athletic mask’s 3rd, anti-viral coating.

It doesn’t say that these masks are superior to some other mask – they simply frame it as their mask having certain USPs. It is up to you to compare and choose.

Given this backdrop, it was terribly unnerving to see Dollar’s ad film (by the agency Lowe Lintas, Kolkata) doing precisely that – compare 2 kinds of masks and promote their anti-viral coated masks as better than ‘normal’ masks.

The ad mocks the entire focus on the usage behaviour of masks, driving a wedge between so-called normal masks and the ‘special’ masks Dollar is trying to peddle, on the back of their other innerwear products which they are better known for.

The tactic is very similar to ‘ordinary product’ vs. ‘our product that has X & Y’. In normal times, that tactic seems perfectly justified to mine a product-centric USP, like Lifebuoy hand-wash liquid using the idea of ‘it’s faster’, against soaps, for hand-wash.

But during a pandemic, when a baseline behaviour is being established at great cost and the repercussions of not adhering to that behaviour is life or death, trying to sell a so-called ‘more effective’ product (which it may be, going by the partner they have chosen), making people question their choice of product, seems irresponsible and disingenuous.

Of course, people still have a choice – to pick up Dollar’s so-called superior anti-viral masks (or any other brand of anti-viral masks) instead of ‘normal’ masks. But the point is that Dollar is using fear and doubt in its communication to make people question their choice of a normal mask.

To be sure, the groom shown in the ad IS wearing a mask – he is not a COVIDiot. He is taking the necessary protection as prescribed. He has also matched his mask with his overall attire as a groom – so, he is even looking at his COVID protection with some aesthetic sense! For all you know, he may be wearing Khadi’s silk mask that has become quite a hit after our Prime Minister’s promotion on his radio show.

For Dollar to have the bride admonish the groom for simply wearing a mask, and even tell him off that he’s bringing a ‘virus’s procession’ (a wordplay for ‘baraat’ – supposedly the ‘fun’ element of the script) despite him wearing a mask is deeply underhanded. See this amidst every other brand and Governments trying to showcase the simple wearing of masks as a commendable act.

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