Although the Great War is remembered today as a time of tragedy and hardship, it’s also remembered as a time rich with influential works in creative spaces like art, music, and literature. Advertising was no exception: emotive ads from brands like Cadbury cemented their place in consumer’s hearts for decades to come. We can observe similar creative booms over and over again in times of crisis—during the Great Depression, World War II, and even the Cold War.
The modern coronavirus pandemic is no exception to this pattern. It comes as no surprise that many creatives, both independent artists and those in advertising, are changing the way they approach their work. With COVID19 at the top of everyone’s minds, let’s take a look at the different angles creatives have chosen to adopt.
Displays of Solidarity
With lockdowns, social distancing, and having to move nearly everything online, it’s been a tough adjustment. Some brands have used this as an opportunity to display solidarity with the public. Ads featuring empty streets with somber music in the background are attempts to reflect the viewer’s own surroundings—and feelings—back at them.
This kind of ad was most prevalent in April and May 2020, when everyone was still in the adjustment period for our new normal. In essence, brands created a solemn tone in their ads as a way to connect with their consumers by sending the message that “we’re all going through this”.
Although this technique was useful in the short term, it soon began to feel overplayed. Consumers began to feel like they didn’t necessarily need a black mirror held up to their everyday lives, and began to wish that brands would lighten up. There’s even a supercut of all the somber ads that displays just how eerily similar they all are.
That being said, this doesn’t mean that the solemn tone has no place as a COVID19 advertising trend anymore. Back-to-school ads earlier this year walked the line between empathetic and somber as they touched on activism and mental health in the context is remote learning. These ads are good examples of how brands can still display solidarity with their consumers without seeming repetitive or ingenuine. This technique and approach can still be effective, but creatives need to walk a fine line so they don’t seem too pessimistic.
Hopeful and Optimistic
Another approach we’ve been seeing somewhat consistently is the kind of imagery that pulls on your heartstrings. This style is somewhat similar to the last one we discussed, but the main difference here is the tone: these ads point out beauty and courage, looking for silver linings even in difficult times.
This Heineken ad is a great example of this approach. The overall message is that even with social distancing and isolation, we can still make and maintain connections. A crucial note is that every scene with people laughing over a video call also features them with a bottle of Heineken, reinforcing for the consumer that this brand looks for silver linings.
This Dove ad, with the slogan “Courage is Beautiful”, is another prime example of how the company is using optimism to shape its brand positioning strategy. Although the images of healthcare professionals with skin damage due to PPE are still serious and grounding, the message is clearly that Dove cares about these heroes, and that there is hope in the face of adversity.
Art in response to COVID19 has taken a similar approach. While many ads focus on how nurses are heroes now, Banksy created a work capturing how children of the future will view healthcare workers as superheroes. The image is currently on display at Southampton General Hospital.
Banksy isn’t the only artist leaning this way—here is an online gallery of pieces from other artists embracing hope and optimism. Emphasizing silver linings really resonates with the general public as we navigate the COVID19 pandemic.
Jumping on Quarantine Trends
There have been many trends keeping us entertained during quarantine, from whipped coffee to Animal Crossing. Brands have been jumping on these trends as they blow up and using them as a part of their strategy to continue to stay relevant.
Heinz jumped on the wave of people buying jigsaw puzzles to pass the time. They partnered with Rethink, an independent Canadian creative agency, to create a 570 piece ketchup jigsaw puzzle with every single piece in their distinctive Heinz red.
One artist, Yukiko Morita, has been in the business of creating lamps out of bread for quite a while now. As baking bread has become an increasingly popular quarantine pastime, Morita has recently commented that a production kit is in the works to provide comfort to people in lockdown in Japan.
“Many people around the world are living anxious lives,” Morita says, “I would like to make works that can help with such anxiety as much as possible.”
Through participating in these (arguably fleeting) trends, brands and artists are able to send a message that they’re also in tune with what’s going on. It’s almost as if they’re your friend also interested in the latest quarantine pastime. Especially in the context of brands, it humanizes them and, done right, projects an image of coolness.
Especially now, adjustments due to COVID19 are beginning to feel…normal, or at least less strange than they felt in April or May. With the aforementioned somber ads everywhere, many consumers are pining for lighthearted ads that are, well, funny.
It shouldn’t come as too much surprise that while times of crisis reinvigorated creativity, they also redefined comedy. Plenty of “funny” in World War II was essential to keep people smiling and fighting on.
Many brands are picking up on the need for lighthearted humor and putting out ads to meet that need. Take for example this Burger King ad that calls consumers patriotic heroes for being couch potatoes and ordering delivery instead of going out. The genius of an ad like this is that it subtly promotes safe distancing practices without bogging viewers down with excessive reminders of how serious our current situation is.
Although this strategy seems to be a near-perfect way to approach viewers, it absolutely requires follow-through. Shortly after that Burger King ad aired, the fast-food giant was exposed for not providing their employees with enough sick leave or benefits. In essence, any brand looking to take a similar approach needs to make sure that their words are backed by action.
What we can take away from all of this is that the COVID19 crisis is no different than crises of the past—we’re experiencing a creative boom as brands and artists alike move to appeal to public feelings of isolation. There are so many different ways to approach this issue, and with a vaccine still not in sight, it’s essential for every brand to have an appropriate COVID19 positioning strategy. Contact us to see how we can help your digital presence as we all navigate this landscape.