Think back to the start of lockdown. How many adverts and marketing campaigns can you truly remember? Hard isn’t it.
In the first few months we were subjected to incredibly generic messages. Marketing and communications teams ditched their 2020 plans, and “pivoted” or shall we say “jumped on the bandwagon” to talk to their customers in a covid-friendly way.
This isn’t to say that it’s not important to capture the zeitgeist or the mood of the nation and tweak your tone and messaging accordingly, but many brands ditched their values to produce generic marketing and advertising that is simply very difficult to even remember.
All ads started to look and feel the same - a sombre piano tune, deserted streets, zoom calls, socially distanced interactions, new normal, unprecedented times, staying at home, thanking key workers. Some of these are important messages, yes, but not effective if you’re just adding to the noise.
Avoiding the pitfalls of genericism, there were a number of ads, creatives, messages and campaigns that really stood out. Here are just a few we remember that are worth celebrating. And as always, we’d love to hear from you; so, if you have an example of an effective creative campaign or idea, just get in touch or let us know on our socials.
Mucinex, a cold and flu brand, elevated important messages at the start of the pandemic with visually stunning public health campaigns for social media. It started with “Be a hero, be boring”, message to encourage the public to stay indoors. Using the same visual identity and communications platform, they took this further with “spread facts, not fear” and “back to normal, it’s up to you”. A great example of taking a clear message and bringing it to life to create something more memorable than most.
A campaign to thank keyworkers was devised by McCann involving creatives from all across Europe. The standout creative, which was shown outdoors and in local press across Europe, reimagined doctors and keyworkers as superheroes using simple yet powerful close-up portraits with an outline of famous superhero masks etched onto the faces of the keyworkers. Not just an important message of gratitude, but a way to show the pain and sacrifices healthcare workers are making every day in our fight against the pandemic.
Ohio Department of Health
One of the few examples where a public health message really managed to communicate effectively. ‘Flatten the curve’ really brought to life the disastrous impact if we don’t socially-distance to help reduce the rate of infections. Not one that received much exposure, but that’s okay, the best ads don’t, but it’s a super creative way to get across a very important message.
Concept ads for Netflix
Channel-led thinking. That is, the use of outdoor advertising to drive home the message of not being outdoors. University students designed these concept ads with spoilers prominently displayed to ruin the plot for lovers of Netflix’s most popular shows, as a way of encouraging the public to stay at home and not break the government guidelines, which were in place at the time.
In the middle of lockdown, Burger King in France managed to make customers smile. As we all became part of the DIY culture during lockdown, being forced to turn our hands to things we wouldn’t expect, Burger King used it as an opportunity to encourage customers who were craving for the favourite Whopper to make their own. It’s simple and kept fans of the brand engaged.
Concept ad for Guinness
Another concept ad that went viral. After gaining so much momentum, it got picked up by Guinness who shared it from their official channels. Created by freelance copywriter Luke O’ Reilly, it’s a perfectly simple on-brand message to encourage people to stay at home, which makes the audience automatically create the distinctive shape of a pint of Guinness in their mind. Such is the power of a brand, not least the distinctiveness of the brand imagery, but the very fact that “outsiders” not affiliated with the brand are so in-tune with the imagery, they are able to create things that are so representative of that brand.
Building on their successful Love Stories campaign, Tesco’s were one of many brands to use user generated content at the heart of their pandemic advertising. Virgin Media, Argos to name a few others who did a great job with this too. But this particular ad stood out not least for the way it builds an emotional response (emotion is a great way to build memory structures) but it slotted so well into its existing Love Stories communications platform.
One trend that we saw emerge from changing consumer behaviours and attitudes was a greater appreciation of relaxation and escapism. Added stresses at an already stressful time meant that many craved moments of calmness and distractions from the reality of the everyday. Audi were one of the first to capture that sense of what we were all missing, with their 4 hour long slow journey called “The Drive”. What’s more, while their competitors were telling everyone to stay inside, they seized the opportunity to do something a little different.
As lockdown restrictions lifted over the summer months, the public mood began to change - messages of staying in were replaced with messages of going out (safely). Coupled with the public’s craving for digital detox and seeking out rural or coastal experiences, an opportunity arose for brands to capture that sense of wholesomeness, freedom and serenity. Who better placed to seize the moment than the National Trust with their short tv spots titled “Everyone needs nature”. What is super smart about these ads is the use of audio - familiar sounds of nature that very effectively cut through the noise of the everyday.
Speaking of audio, Sainsbury’s feed that summer feeling was a master class in using familiar summer sounds to evoke an emotional and nostalgic response. It wasn’t really covid-related so I couldn’t include it, but it did deserve a mention.
Okay so this one is loosely related to coronavirus, but more in the sense of building on the public’s desire to do DIY during and even-after lockdown. It’s also coupled with enhanced family values and self-empowerment and improvement that have become core to public’s psyche. The message is simple and incredibly motivating, “you don’t buy a life, you build a life” and the execution is heart-warming and slightly nostalgic (a trend that is seen during hard times as people navigate to self-comfort).
Channel 4 Bake-Off
Finally, a funny one. Remember at the start of lockdown when you couldn’t find toilet roll anywhere? Yep. Well Channel 4’s Bake-Off have played on this behavioural phenomenon perfectly, a gentle reminder to those tough days at the start of lockdown. It features a lot of different ‘everyday people’ discussing “where to find some”. Whatever it is they’re tracking down, the audience are taken down a garden path, only to be provided with a lovely uplifting, positive twist, especially for those who love the show.
The creativity shown here is united in its context – coronavirus. But they communicate different messaging themes at different times of the pandemic. From important and irreverent public health messages to offering audiences escapism and a positive look towards the future, the ads shown are just some of the most impactful and memorable ones, whilst acknowledging there are many more to mention.
Has this period in advertising and marketing taught us anything new? Yes and no. The principles are the same, the creation process is evolving, and the speed at which we go to market is quicker, but at the heart of being memorable is good ideas based on a sound understanding of your brand, market, audience and culture. It’s that easy isn’t it ;-)