By Michael Gold
Any effort to persuade vast masses of Americans to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has clearly failed.
Just in Pleasantville, on any given day, I can see a dozen people walking on the streets with no masks. So, imagine what it’s like everywhere else.
Centers for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield tells us the most important thing we can do to prevent getting COVID-19 is to wear a mask, even above getting a vaccine that does not yet exist.
President Trump has not wanted us to wear masks because it makes the country appear as if everything is not normal, that something has gone wrong.
I’m speculating, of course, but bear with me on this, because what else do I have to go on? Using tarot cards and consulting with trees won’t work. I’ve tried.
So, we’re going to have to work around our collective failure by marketing masks in a new and different way.
I’ve seen a commercial that states you should wear a mask to prevent other people from getting the virus. This appeal to charity and citizenship has obviously not worked.
But what has not yet been tried is a massive, public effort to make masks cool, hip and fashionable.
Here is where the private sector should step up, not out of any sense of charity (God forbid!), but to make money. Appealing to the aspirational sensibilities of American consumers rarely fails.
Clothing manufacturers can hire advertising agencies to come up with gripping TV and internet commercials that grab viewers by the collar and pull them off their couches for a few brief moments, long enough to get them to click on some buttons and buy ultra-hot masks from Urban Outfitters, Uniqlo, Athleta and others.
Once they start selling high-end masks, the consumer masses may well come along.
Where should they start?
Always go for the kids first. Disney and DC are already selling masks, but we need their heroes on TV!
Imagine Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool or Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man making funny, sarcastic comments about wearing a mask. Another good candidate to film memorable commercials includes Peter Quill (Star Lord, from “Guardians of the Galaxy”), but only if he’s with Baby Groot, the cute little tree alien.
Very importantly, we need super villain masks advertised all over. Wearing a Joker, Scarecrow, Riddler, Loki or Red Skull mask is the perfect passive-aggressive way to mock everyone else wearing a mask.
For men with fashion sense (I do not include myself in this group), somebody should consider making masks with Art Deco-style patterns from the 1930s, with ties to match. We need Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Giorgio Armani on the case here. Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Lin Manuel-Miranda, Leonardo DiCaprio and George Clooney should be out there wearing these masks on TV.
For men who have no use for them, how about face masks with Rush Limbaugh’s and Tucker Carlson’s faces on them? They get to promote anti-mask wearing rants while wearing a face mask. It’s perfect for confusing everybody, including the person wearing the mask!
Concerning women, we need to call in the heavy hitters to design hot face masks, like Stella McCartney, Vera Wang, Donna Karan and Michael Kors, and other luxe people of whom I have absolutely no knowledge.
Get famous actresses to wear the masks on TV, from Jennifer Lawrence and Alison Brie to Charlize Theron and Halle Berry.
They should be seen in commercials showing fabulously wealthy people all wearing fabulous masks at fabulous parties with glittering chandeliers in mansions the size of football fields. We need to watch amazingly rich men wearing tuxedos, and women in ball gowns, all with face masks, dancing elegantly on yachts as big as aircraft carriers.
Aspirational marketing is the key here, so no one will be allowed to design an orange and purple plaid mask.
Hip-hop stars, from Jay Z, Kendrick Lamar and Cardi B to Nicki Minaj and Donald Glover, need to get involved and make commercials about masks, too.
On the country music side of things, Blake Shelton, Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert and company must be included in the campaign.
If Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez, Tyra Banks, Will Smith, Patrick Mahomes, Channing Tatum, LeBron James and about a thousand more people I can’t think of right now went out there on TV every night wearing masks, we’ve got a fighting chance, baby!
We may be able to start a movement. And who knows where that could go?
Maybe we’ll start eating spinach leaves instead of French Fries and burgers. Maybe we’ll get rid of those giant purple tube men who wave to us from car dealer lots. Maybe we’ll finally make dogs learn to read.
A man can dream.
Michael Gold has published articles in The Washington Post, The New York Daily News, The Albany Times-Union and other newspapers. Miriam Gold provided research assistance for this article.