COVID-19 Advertising: Nothing’s changed

COVID-19 advertising: What works and what doesn’t

The question many marketers are asking themselves during this time is this: What tone should we adopt in our COVID-19 advertising? Should it be soft and warm? Comforting and sympathetic? Or should it be happier or comical?

Marketers are tiptoeing through those questions, often resulting in ads less focused than they might otherwise be or just doing all of the above. What have marketers been doing and what should they do?

COVID-19 advertisingFirst, brands must consider Stealing Share’s model that demonstrates the emotional changes among intensities during times like this. Taking into account what target audiences are feeling is always primary. But most brands are simply failing as demonstrated by their COVID-19 advertising.

Most significantly, brands are simply reverting back to their old dilemmas. Few differentiate themselves from the competition, with many ads simply blending into the next. It’s gotten to the point where one ad simply looks and sounds like the others.

This Wells Fargo spot, currently airing, is a prime example.

How many variations of this have we seen? This piece of COVID-19 advertising could be for anybody. What’s the point of even airing this spot? To say Wells Fargo cares? Who DOESN’T say that?

The do-everything approach

It’s our feeling that audiences have tired of this approach. There’s so many on the airwaves we’re ignoring them. It feels like advertising developed by a committee that says, “We’ve got to be sensitive and show we’re helping.” Like marketing is some HR seminar.

Insurance always represents one of the heaviest advertisers, even in this time. Which is weird. Because who’s thinking of insurance (other than healthcare)?

Take State Farm, the market leader in consumer insurance. On one hand, it says we’re in a new normal (which is probably correct). Then it reverts to its tired plot of Jake at State Farm.

How does the latter demonstrate a new normal? Some may think making the new Jake African American demonstrates something new. But, as much as I believe African Americans should be more represented in media, it’s forced because it asks audiences to simply forget the first Jake from State Farm.

Of course, audiences probably don’t think that deeply. But State Farm should. COVID-19 advertising means you must still be good marketers. You must still think about what moves audiences to change a behavior (switching from what they’ve always done) and what will be recognized instead of being ignored.

COVID-19 advertising still much of the same

Basically, COVID-19 advertising is simply falling into the same old traps. Whether there’s a pandemic or not, advertisers continue mucking things up.

So, yes, most brands are now just airing the same, tired advertising they always have. In fact, we could say there’s just two kinds of COVID-19 advertising right now. The maudlin approach that demonstrates an insecure brand and makes audiences weary. Or just the same old crap.

We at Stealing Share often rail on Burger King, the most confused brand in fast food. It’s the king (no pun intended) of the throwing-everything-against-the-wall approach, even down to its constantly changing menu.

It competes on price, with the Whopper special running on TV ad nauseum.

We’re keeping this look at COVID-19 advertising to the US. But we’re wondering why Burger King isn’t running this ad in the US, which is only running overseas.

It’s still about price (good luck with that), but at least it addresses today’s environment.

What brands should do

So, who wins with COVID-19 advertising? It’s simple. Those who understand their brands best. GEICO, another of the heavy insurance advertisers, does what it always does: Air entertaining, often hilarious ads that do little to create preference.

On the other hand, you have a brand like Ford. It understands that its brand, especially when it comes to its larger vehicles, means something American. And even though it’s not stated, the era of the pandemic is suggested by its Bryan Cranston-narrated unveiling of the new Ford Bronco.

Now that’s a brand that gets its meaning, demonstrates an emotional driver and subtly addresses our current state of affairs. That’s COVID-19 advertising at its best.

A final word about tone. Many marketers think like the creatives at advertising agencies, believing tone is simply a result of what the ad itself is saying. That’s true as far as it goes. But tone is also a strategy.

Which brings us back to the original question. Which tone should be adopted? Our feeling is that the time has come for brands to lighten up. Not that COVID-19 is going away anytime soon and still remains a national (and global) crisis. But the same rules that apply to brand preference still exist, only with different nuances and intensities.

The tone question to COVID-19 advertising should be answered by what your brand means. (Or should mean.) It’s not only about striking the right vibe that connects with today’s emotions. (Brand research should assist in that.)

But it’s also taking a brand position that is different and better than the competition (so you can own it) and tapping into how audiences choose in context.

Just like it’s always been.

See more posts in the following related categories: Advertising COVID-19
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