In 2013, the power went out during Super Bowl XLVII and a team of creatives and media planners responded with Oreo’s “You Can Still Dunk in The Dark” tweet. It raised the bar for quick thinking in a time when brands were still getting used to being “part of the conversation.”
Nearly a decade later, marketers largely have processes in place to seize such creative opportunities. But when the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a massive shift in consumer priorities and behavior, the impulse was put to the test. After all, how do marketers participate in a conversation characterized by unprecedented fear and uncertainty?
For some, it was a time to pause activity—a safe strategy, though not entirely without risk. As Jason Kanefsky, chief investment officer at Havas Media said, "There is a risk of losing brand equity when advertising goes dark, and an opportunity to use this time to build and reinforce a brand’s relationship with their customers and prospects.”
It’s the "how" that poses the biggest challenge. In a time when health and safety are top of mind, brands must consider consumer needs beyond the typical framework of a product offering. That is to say, if you’re going to meet your audience with messaging, you need to meet them where they are. Here are a few different approaches we have observed:
Be present, but acknowledge the situation
The first waves of social distancing in the U.S. coincided with St. Patrick’s Day. Alcohol and spirits brands needed to act quickly to adapt messaging for the tentpole marketing event. Jameson acknowledged social distancing with “Take the spirit of the bar home.” Guinness’ video message likewise leaned into social distancing. In both cases, brands introduced comfort and reassurance by remaining present, but acknowledging the new normal.
Deliver a unifying message, creatively
Social distancing gave marketers a productive way to address the crisis; even if their products or services experienced decreased demand, they could help get that important message out.
For example, Nike delivered a spot-on brand experience celebrating the stay-at-home athlete. Uber struck multiple emotional chords when it flipped its usual call to action: “Stay home for everyone who can’t.” Visit Las Vegas also promoted the importance of staying home, while reassuring audiences that better days are ahead.
Inspire action and support
Some brands put their creative energy toward giving. Tyson Foods, among others, supported restaurant relief by participating in the #greatamericantakeout campaign, while Little Caeser’s #pieitforward delivered pizzas to frontline healthcare workers. Budweiser shifted its sports budget to support the American Red Cross with its #oneteam initiative. And, in a time when toilet paper is flying off the shelves, Cottonelle opted to support the United Way with a #Shareasquare campaign.
Help people adjust to the new normal
Social distancing forced everyone to find new ways to meet necessities, but there was a lot of confusion along the way. What stores are open? Which restaurants deliver?
McDonald’s text-only video stepped in with clarity, reminding audiences of its delivery options. Walgreens also offered answers with a video explaining what services were available for social-distancing customers. “Hyundai Assurance” went one step further by offering car payment support to customers who’ve lost their jobs.
Offer humor—but carefully
As much as everyone appreciates humor right now, it is a delicate route for marketers to take. Still, there were some notable creative moves from brands, including Trojan’s memorable social distancing copy that prompted audiences to “Sext us instead.” Burger King France delighted social media with its “Le Whopper De La Quarantaine” graphic, while Jeep got additional mileage from its Super Bowl Groundhog Day effort, playing up the repetitive nature of lockdown life. These creatives were successful because they invoked humor gently; they didn’t ask us to roll on the floor laughing.
At a time when health and safety are universally top priorities, it is inspiring to see so many marketers embrace creative solutions. These specific messages offer utility, comfort and humor. More broadly, the presence of trusted brands delivers a sense of reassurance in stressful times.
Of course, as the COVID-19 crisis continues to evolve, so will creative marketing. Brands will naturally move past calls for social distancing to new themes. The coming wave of creative “re-opening” messages is something we can all look forward to.