For the advertising industry, the pandemic means opportunity.
Procter & Gamble says it can “turn the stressed life into your best life” in recent ads for StressBalls gumdrops, whose ingredients include ashwagandha extract and valerian root extract. Nature’s Bounty, a wellness company, promises a way for its customers to “find peace” in new ads for Stress Comfort gummies, which include ingredients such as gamma-aminobutyric acid, melatonin and lavender extract.
Roman, a New York company that offers treatments for conditions such as erectile dysfunction and hair loss, is advertising stress relief capsules that it says are “backed by science.” An unnamed user of Roman products featured in its marketing materials claims: “This company has changed my life.” But Roman acknowledges that some ingredients of its products, like rhodiola rosea, have “yet to be extensively studied in the U.S.A.”
Stephanie Van Stee, an associate professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis who specializes in health communication, advises consumers not to allow stress to overwhelm their skepticism. “You need to be looking at these advertisements critically and do your research to make sure you know what you’re getting into with some of these things,” she said.
During a time when more than 180,000 people in the United States have died of Covid-19 and millions have been put out of work, nearly a third of American adults have reported signs of anxiety or depression, a significant increase from a year earlier, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last month. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that of the millions of workers who have faced pay cuts or layoffs, more than half blame the pandemic for damaging their mental health.
Public service messages geared to a newly vulnerable population started appearing in the spring, with commercials from the Advertising Council, a nonprofit group. In one campaign, entertainers including Meghan Trainor and Addison Rae encouraged teenagers to connect with friends; in another, creators on TikTok like Jaci Butler and Parker James shared tips on how to handle isolation.
Those messages were followed by a flood of ads for sleep aids, mental-health apps, remote therapy services, prescription drugs, potions and tinctures.