How Advertisements Are Evolving During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Coronavirus has completely flipped the script on marketing efforts and advertisements that were in the works for months have now been scrapped. Ads that may have been considered funny and on-brand a few weeks ago now have the potential to come off as out of touch or downright insensitive. During this unprecedented time, it is essential that marketers walk a very fine line when it comes to their messaging. Here are three different approaches brands are taking during the coronavirus pandemic and what marketers can learn from them.

Approach #1: Informative Ads 

Like many brands, Tim Hortons realized that the coronavirus was no ordinary situation once lockdowns, mass layoffs, and social distancing started to take place. They knew that run of the mill ads weren’t going to cut it in the current climate and they reworked their advertising strategy to better suit consumer needs. 

In late March, Tim Hortons ran a utilitarian ad that answered some of the most common questions they were getting from customers. In this ad, an employee explained that their drive-thrus would remain open and that delivery partners and apps would be accepting orders. They weren’t selling any products in these ads, but rather they informed their customers of how they could access their products while still staying safe.

Approach #2: Gratitude Ads

Brands including BMO and A&W are taking a different approach than Tim Hortons in their advertising efforts, and have decided to run ads that show their appreciation for workers during this time. A recent BMO ad thanked “all the front-liners for keeping our lives moving”.  This ad made no mention of its banking services. 

Similarly, A&W decided to thank all essential employees and Canadians that are doing their part by staying home in a recent ad campaign. Again, there was no mention of A&W’s products or services in this advertisement, though they did thank their restaurant staff in the ad.

Approach #3: Social Responsibility Ads 

Ads that promote social distancing are the polar opposite of what we typically see in traditional advertisements, but brands like have embraced this new way of life. The company decided to scrap an advertisement that showed its mascot, Captain Obvious, riding in an airplane with his arm pressed up against another passenger and his fingers in their snack. This ad wasn’t reflective of current times and probably wouldn’t have gone over well had they decided to run it. 

In its place, they put an ad of Captain Obvious using hand sanitizer before snacking. He is isolated in this ad and promoted the fact that Captain Obvious will be “social distancing for a while”. They also encouraged people to practice social distancing with a “Just Stay Home” tagline. 

Advertising In the Age of Coronavirus

So what can we learn from what these brands have done in the wake of the coronavirus? Well, first of foremost, the rules of advertising don’t necessarily apply in situations like these. Promoting your products and services should no longer be your top priority. Consumers are closely watching how brands react to this sensitive situation and assessing whether their values are being reflected. 

None of the brands discussed have been acting as if this is business as usual, and they have all drastically changed their marketing strategy so as to not come off as tone-deaf. Advertising during a pandemic requires constant evaluation, campaign adjustments, and a willingness to directly address what is happening in society. This doesn’t mean capitalizing on the crisis, but rather letting consumers know exactly what your brand stands for when times are tough. 

As advertising experts and brand specialists ourselves, we’ve also had to adapt the ads we’re running for our clients. For example, the ads we’re running for Canadian Plasma Resources, a pharmaceutical company that collects plasma from healthy donors, are now centred around the fact that plasma donations can help immunocompromised patients that are especially vulnerable during this time. 

For the wine brand Casillero del Diablo, we’ve altered their social media strategy and are now doing weekly Amazon gift card giveaways. This campaign is meant to create a sense of community by encouraging people to purchase fun at-home activities or help people in need at this time (accompanied by a lovely glass of wine, of course). We want to raise brand awareness, increase engagement with our Canadian audience, boost their Instagram following, and continue to make @casillerodeldiabloca a fun account to follow. 

Marketers need to continue to be flexible as the coronavirus pandemic plays out and pay close attention to how consumers are feeling on social media. At Arnold Street Media, Inc., we’ll be keeping a close eye on how this ever-changing situation evolves and keep you posted on all the latest! 

Contact Arnold Street Media, Inc. today to optimize your online presence and have your story told.