Nearly all COVID marketing and lockdown ads are the same. There, I said it.
Don’t believe me? Watch this.
Unprecedented times… New normal… Stay at home… Thank you key workers… We get it.
I’m not saying those messages aren’t important. They are. Nor am I saying that you shouldn’t advertise during difficult times. You should.
So what am I saying? Good question. Your marketing strategy and brand should not change during lockdown and coronavirus. Yes, your tactics, tone and messaging should be different, but your personality and values should remain consistent.
The best ads and copy are the ones that are remembered, and to achieve this, you need to throw away the box-ticking exercise that many companies have adopted with their 2020 marketing.
“Do people know these are unprecedented times? We need to tell them...”
“What about staying at home, have we told people to do that?”
“Have we thanked key workers? SHIT, did we forget about the key workers? At least tell me that we’ve mentioned the new normal…”
Yes, your marketing efforts need to be sensitive and relevant to the current climate, but to be memorable, you need to do something a little different. This is where things can get a little tricky.
Be brave, without controversy. Be conversational and personable, but not insensitive. Be timely and relevant, but also responsible. Tell stories, but be unique.
And you thought the government’s coronavirus guidelines were complicated...Starting to see why companies spend millions on marketing, huh?
COVID Marketing and Copywriting
Brands plan their marketing campaigns months in advance, and there’s no doubt that the coronavirus crisis threw many creative plans out the window. However, the best advertisers are those who can pacily pivot and rapidly react to emerging trends, stories and situations.
Often, the most memorable marketing is reactionary. It’s not scheduled on Hootsuite. It’s not been through hundreds of meetings. It’s not passed and approved by big-wig executives in suits and ties.
I recently wrote a thread about copywriting and advertising, describing how marketing is no longer about persuasion. It’s about conversation.
The challenge of offline and digital marketing is to spark and sustain dialogue between the brand and the consumer.
Engagement is how you gain a competitive advantage, whether it’s during the coronavirus pandemic or post lockdown.
The Best COVID Marketing & Lockdown Ads
Think back to all of those coronavirus ads and lockdown marketing about the New Normal. How many do you actually remember?
Companies would have spent countless hours and budget on producing those ads, and some of them were in fact very good. But doing what everyone else is doing will only get you so far, even if what you produce is the best.
Here are some examples of companies that have dared to be a little different, while remaining sensitive and true to their brand values.
Bumble: Dating Post-lockdown
“Dating is back. You can stop texting your ex now.”
“Might as well add falling in love to the list of mad things that happened in 2020.”
“You can tell the grandkids you met when kissing was illegal.”
“Dating just got turned off and on again. Should be working fine now.”
This is not the first time Bumble has been praised for its genius marketing. It almost certainly won’t be the last, either.
The dating app switched their marketing efforts to virtual dating while everyone was stuck at home during lockdown. By tapping into the video chat trend Bumble remained relevant, despite their customer experience arguably relying on face-to-face interaction.
Now, post-lockdown, their content marketers have been hard at work ensuring the app remains at the forefront of people’s minds with timely, relevant, relatable billboard advertising.
Innocent: Remember this?
2. Another COVID-themed campaign: @innocent are never ones to miss out on an opportunity to do something a little cheeky with their #copywriting— Oliver Wℹ️lkℹ️ns🔛 (@ollie_wilko) September 3, 2020
• Little-to-no mention of the product pic.twitter.com/ui2bIMDS7w
Billboards are back! With less people remote working and more people venturing outside, billboards are the perfect opportunity to reach people off-screen.
Never ones to shy away from a bit of cheeky advertising, Innocent Drinks have injected some much-needed humour and wit in people’s lives with their latest campaign.
Humour, simplicity, conversational, and with little-to-no mention of what they actually sell. This one has all of the ingredients for a classic Innocent campaign.
We’ve all been social distancing and staying at home, eyes fixated on the latest case numbers and death rates as we worry about our loved ones.
The truth is, most of us could do with a bit of respite from this crisis, hence why we’ve been taking part in virtual quizzes and family reunions on Zoom.
The ‘Zoom Boom’ changed many people’s attitudes towards technology, as the video software was relied upon to stay connected with friends and family during lockdown. With this, of course, came a few technical difficulties, which Snickers poke fun at in their lockdown ad.
Netflix: Spoiler Alert
4. These @Netflix ads understandably gained a lot of traction in #lockdown. They were actually fake concepts designed by students, but the idea is superb— Oliver Wℹ️lkℹ️ns🔛 (@ollie_wilko) September 3, 2020
• Responsible (on board with government guidance)
• Relatable pic.twitter.com/uoiRw0ZXY3
One of the best, most-talked-about campaigns in 2020 was actually a fake. These concept ads, designed by university students, promote Netflix and the UK government’s lockdown guidelines.
Their brilliance lies in the fact that they not only promote some of Netflix’s biggest shows, but that they also discourage people from breaking the government rules surrounding COVID.
Responsible, engaging and relatable, it’s no wonder these ads got a lot of traction and attention in the marketing world.
IKEA: Stay At Home
IKEA's very on-brand "Stay Home" advertising... pic.twitter.com/AcLjnCzvXO— Oliver Wℹ️lkℹ️ns🔛 (@ollie_wilko) September 3, 2020
Where’s that screw? What is this part? How does that connect with this?
These are usually the sounds of me assembling flat-pack furniture from IKEA. Fortunately, their latest instructions were a little simpler…
Why does this work? Because it injected IKEA into the daily conversation when people were spending more time at home thinking of ways they can decorate and improve their property.
Is the government using ‘Shitposting’ to promote their message?
Shitposting, in the words of the BBC’s political editor, is: “an advert that looks really rubbish and people share it online saying, ‘Oh I can’t believe how shit this is”.
This is a phenomenon that has lurked in the dark depths of Reddit and messageboards for years. And maybe the BBC’s political editor is not the most reliable person to define it.
Laura Kuenssberg was criticised for her definition of Shitposting, with many an “OK Boomer” hurled her way online. In reality, her explanation wasn’t wrong - shitposting is deliberately ironic and poorly constructed content that aims to “distract from the initial point of conversation”.
Ring any bells?
From the use of Comic Sans to rubbish graphics and poorly worded rhetoric, is the Conservative government using shitposting to spread their message?
Wash Cover Make Hands Face Space, anyone?
Are these social media messages an example of a well-executed “So bad it’s good” strategy from Boris and co? The numbers would suggest so.
When the Conservative Twitter account posted their #GetBrexitDone message, Comic Sans became one of the top trends in the UK.
When they released their “Stay Alert. Control The Virus. Save Lives” slogan, the internet was rife with memes and generators, which gained global media coverage.
When the Prime Minister posted his “Get Tested” graphic, it prompted even more discussions about the government’s graphic designer.
Whether you like their messaging or not, they serve their purpose: to spread the word. And with recent news that the government also paid social media influencers to promote the NHS Test and Trace Service, it’s clear that the government is putting a lot of time and effort into their digital COVID messaging.
What can we learn from COVID marketing?
When nearly every marketing campaign is saying the same thing, now is the perfect time to do something a little different.
We are in an industry that rewards innovation and creativity, not tradition. Be unique. Be memorable.
Head of Content