Research update: Advertising best practices during COVID-19

Since our last post, we’ve digested a new report from Phoenix Marketing International who are closely monitoring the pandemic’s impact on advertising and viewer engagement. Unlike the daily knee-jerk moves of the stock market, the world of marketing has been more predictable and steady. That’s good news for those of us in charge of messaging and media.


Looking for sense of normality?

This chart which broadly compares the effectiveness of today’s COIVD and Non-COVID advertising to pre-COVID levels is quite satisfying…


Chart comparing the effectiveness of today’s COIVD and Non-COVID advertising to pre-COVID levels


The big positive here is that likeability and message linkage are up by a statistically relevant amount. This nicely counters our concerns that advertising may be seen as crass or unworthy of our attention given the worldwide upheaval created by COVID-19.


How are best practices evolving?

Advice from the Phoenix reports has not changed since our last post (recommendations repeated at the end). What’s new is the abundance of COVID-themed ads streaming into our households. Here are a few notable examples including two different takes on Budweiser’s revival of their pop-culture hit “Whassup”.


Budweiser Canada “Whassup”: What we like about this version is the simple emphasis on what has not changed. Other than some digital editing to make this about life in quarantine, the 1999 spot is unchanged and has the dual power of much-needed comic relief and nostalgia.


Budweiser U. S. “Checking in, that’s Whassup”: This retake on “Whassup” is more expected, featuring a group of NBA & WNBA stars gathering on a Zoom-like virtual hangout. The message “Checking in, that’s Whassup” is spot-on for a purveyor of beer during these times.


Blue Shield of California “Tough”: While the Westworld-style piano track of California Dreaming had us hooked from the start, the minimalist approach of this spot is amazingly impactful. In the space of one minute it weighs you down with all the stress of being healthcare worker and then lifts you up with a positive message, “The fight is tough, but so are you.”


After viewing the above spots, we can all agree that they follow the best practices highlighted in our previous post…


  • Ensure messaging is relevant to the current environment, but communicated in a way that shows empathy and makes an emotional connection.


  • Be genuine and focus narratives that feature real people.


  • Don’t paint too bleak of a picture — stronger ads are finding a way to communicate a positive message.


  • While the focus should be on addressing viewers’ needs, don’t completely sacrifice brand communication for messaging.


  • Put the customer at the center with empathy and compassion. Avoid hard-selling tactics.


A parting note: addressing the challenges of COVID-19 in your marketing is a choice and not a requirement. Brand/image advertising most certainly has to be re-tuned to fit within the current climate. On the other hand, direct marketing and every-day retail ads can easily be perceived as using a COVID theme to capture eyeballs and sell products or services — a practice that will immediately backfire.

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