A history of the pandemic in 16 ads

Our Ad Of The Week email takes a close look at one high-scoring ad each week, looking at why it resonates with audiences and what marketers can learn from it.

Over the last four months it’s tracked the progress of the Coronavirus crisis as nations have gone into lockdown, people have gone on an emotional journey from fear to sadness and back to ‘normality’, and as the ad industry has had to reinvent how it shoots new commercials.

Six months on from the virus first making headlines outside China, here’s a look back at the ads which hit big during the pandemic so far.

March: Preparing for Pandemic

March 19th – Carex – “Tic Tac Toe”

As cases in Europe and the US started to rise, and with several European countries imposing lockdowns, retailers found themselves out of personal care brands. The best ads in the sector weren’t Covid-specific – they were made much earlier – but this hand sanitiser ad struck a chord by emphasising hand hygiene and family.

March 26th – Guinness – “We’ll March Again”

With big events like the St Patrick’s Day parade being cancelled, Guinness hit the right spot with a message of togetherness and defiance.

April: In These Difficult Times

April 2nd – Jack Daniels – “With Love, Jack”

Jack Daniels was one of the first brands to make the familiar “video call” style ad recognising the new realities of social distancing and isolation. It got a 4-Star score for its typically hopeful message.

April 9th – Aldi – “We’re Here For You”

Big retailers enjoyed a big lift in sales and public affection. Aldi’s ad struck typical notes of reassurance – and hit 5-Stars with a cameo from Fluent Device Kevin The Carrot.

April 16th – Oreo – “Stay Home, Stay Playful”

Oreo was one of many brands which found itself with an existing campaign and message that needed quick adaptation. They did it with style and got a 5-Star ad.

April 22nd – Google – “Where There’s Help, There’s Hope”

Marketing commentators got bored of reassuring Covid-19 ads well before the public did. As they complained, well-made examples like Google’s were still getting 5-Star scores.

April 29th – ITV – “Clap From Our Carers”

Lockdown brought new behaviours and rituals, including the weekly “NHS clap” in the UK. Media brand ITV found a niche for itself in this new public behaviour and scored very well with it.

May: Living With Lockdown

May 6th – Uncle Ben’s – “Special Guests”

Rice brand Uncle Ben’s was one of the first to make new ads which were about life in lockdown, rather than about the pandemic itself. It was a new phase of the crisis – one in which the pandemic was “context not content”.

May 13th – British Gas – “Here To Solve”

Even in a crisis, the craft of advertising can separate an OK ad from a great one. This 5-Star example made itself memorable with great camerawork and soundtrack.

May 20th – McDonalds – “Most Important Meals”

Businesses were beginning to reopen, and McDonalds’ found a neat way of advertising the fact it was open for business while highlighting the good it was doing.

May 28th – ITV/Honda – “Cog (People’s Ad Version)”

By this point the public was looking for escapism, not reassurance, and it was the perfect time for ITV to run its “People’s Ad Break”, celebrating lockdown creativity with stay-home remakes of classic ads, like Honda’s “Cog”.

June: The Not-So-New Normal

June 4th – Compare The Market – “Meerkat Music”

Brands began to bring back their familiar Fluent Devices, with a mild lockdown twist, as in this entertaining ad for Compare The Meerkat.

June 11th – Maltesers – “Home Baking”

A genuine landmark from Maltesers, an ad which sees the funny (and naughty) side of lockdown life. Unthinkable two months earlier, but now a high scoring ad.

June 18th – Gillette – “Made Of What Matters”

While still dealing with a pandemic, many brands felt they also had to take a stand on racial justice alongside the Black Lives Matter protests. Most brands stuck to social media, but Gillette US found a fitting piece of work in its pre-Covid inventory.

June 25th – Santander – “Margaret’s Story”

Remember how we said people got bored of Covid ads a lot slower than marketers did? Santander gave us a classic example of the “video call” format, helped along by celebrities Ant and Dec. But the shelf-life of these ads is dwindling…

July 2nd – Kings Hawaiian – “Summer BBQ”

And finally, an ad which could have been made pre-Covid – except for a few subtle touches, and a brand purpose kicker at the end.

Is the world’s Covid-19 journey over? Far from it. But week-by-week, advertisers have adjusted. We’ll be seeing the impact of Coronavirus on the industry for years to come, but it won’t be as overtly on the screen.

To be sure of following the next chapter, subscribe to Ad Of The Week and see it unfold, one week and one ad at a time.

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