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What we can learn from the best ads to come out of the coronavirus pandemic

Brands have been hard at work trying to pivot their messaging during the COVID-19 pandemic. While no one has really stuck out as being totally tone-deaf yet, there have been a few brands that have made exceptional work.

I’ve attempted to examine why these videos work and more importantly, what you can learn from each one of these fantastic pieces. Enjoy!

dop - “Stuck at home”

This spot for dop is a great example of a brand quickly adapting to the current reality without having to mention Covid-19 or the “uncertain times” we’re living in.

The video features all of the ways people can use their cell phone holder, told through a couple sheltering in place. They even poke fun at the toilet paper shortage.

Dop does a great job tying their product’s features and benefits to what we’re really all doing in our homes right now (this article is being written on April 6, 2020).

The dop is the last product you would think of buying during a pandemic, but this video does such a good job of empathizing with its prospects that a strong case is made that it’s a necessity.

What can we learn?

Throw away your traditional features/benefits mix during a crisis. Rethink the value you bring against what your target audience is really going through in real-life.

Also, speed. Holy smokes dop was fast. This video came out on March 25, just 9 days after the White House's “15 days to slow the spread” policy was announced. Don’t worry about being perfect when responding to a topical/temporary situation. Do worry about being quick!

Toyota - “Here to help”

This video featuring Toyota’s spokesperson, Jan, won’t win any Cannes Lions but still is a great example of effectively communicating to a large customer base. Its message is super simple, clean and effective: “We’re here to help.” The video features Jan explaining that Toyota service centers are open, and many offer services that are uniquely appropriate in today’s environment – online scheduling and no-contact vehicle dropoff.

If you’re a regular reader to Umault’s blog, you know we always favor entertaining over explaining. But in this case a very simple and explanatory approach was the right call. The video doesn’t attempt to be cute but somehow still summons up Toyota’s brand vibe through using Jan. Another reason this approach was the right one is because Toyota’s customer base is so large it’s basically a public utility at this point. Especially for customers deemed “essential” who need to be able to get to work safely.

What can we learn?

Sometimes the best thing to do is go “straight at ‘em,” especially if your customer base is large and what you’re offering is critical. Consider this approach if your products or services fall more in the realm of public utility than a discretionary or superfluous purchase.

Facebook - “We're never lost if we can find each other”

I mean, come on. This video proves that great work can sometimes be as simple as a poetic, humanity-driven script, paired with found footage. This Facebook spot does exactly that. It uses visuals from real users’ feeds to visually tell the story of what we’re all going through.

The voiceover isn’t some kind of boomy Morgan Freeman type, nor is it a smooth-sounding commercial voice like The Home Depot guy. It’s the voice of British poet Kate Tempest reading her poem “People's Faces.” There’s passion behind her voice that the best actor in the world wouldn’t be able to summon up.

The visuals aren’t slick. Some are vertical, some are horizontal. But what they lack in “quality,” they make up for in being authentic.

What can we learn?

Stop trying to be perfect all the time. Embrace the raw. Find the people most passionate about the message you’re trying to convey and give them the microphone, metaphorically speaking.

Understand that the reason you cry while watching this video isn’t about any particular single word or single image. It’s because the video is presented to you unfiltered. It’s presented to you in an honest and vulnerable way. Nothing is perfect – yet somehow that’s what makes it perfect.

Budweiser - “One team”

This is my favorite video to come out of the crisis. It has everything we’ve come to expect in a Budweiser spot: heart, patriotism and a little bit of humor. This gets a 100% in my book.

The video uses the “This Bud’s for” phrase paired with real sports teams names, but uses imagery of the people on the front lines of the crisis instead of the athletes. For example, when the narrator says, “This Bud’s for the Braves,” a food delivery driver is shown (my favorite moment btw). At the end of the spot the narrator says, “This Bud’s for the Home Team” and a shot of us in our homes is shown.

This spot uses what I call the “Forrest Gump effect.” The movie Forrest Gump, starring Tom Hanks, makes you go through every single human emotion possible. By the end of the movie you’ve excreted every hormone from stress-inducing cortisol to happy-making serotonin. You are an emotional wreck. That’s the exact feeling I get after watching this. My heart hurts yet I’m delighted and so proud to be staying at home and doing my part.

The other amazing part of this video is that Budweiser seamlessly links in our love of sports with the message. It sends a subliminal message that while there are no sports right now, there are still heroes playing in an even bigger game. Brilliant!

What can we learn?

Budweiser knows its audience so well they know they’re probably missing sports. They then had the guts to address that audience and “risk” leaving everyone else behind. But guess what? Even though most of us don’t follow every sport or watch every night of SportsCenter, we still get it.

Have the courage to address your single most important audience and have the confidence that others will understand. By speaking to everyone you speak to no one. Budweiser spoke to its core audience and we all gladly came along for the ride.

United Nations - “Don't Touch Your Face”

Is it cheating to include something our team created in this round up? I think this spot is catchy, but you don't have to take my word for it — you can ask Adland or Ads of the World.

In March, the United Nations released a global call to creatives to help them spread the message of how to stop the coronavirus. They needed a range of works that shared key messaging to audiences across borders and age groups. We responded with "Don't Touch Your Face," an earworm designed to remind you to, well, not touch your face!

The piece was shortlisted from over 16,000 entries. Our goal in creating this spot was to write a song that would pop into your head every time your nose started itching in the grocery store. We paired it with an equally eye-catching animation.

What can we learn?

For some messages, it's best to stay simple. There's no need to get fancy when telling people not to touch their faces. BUT you also need people to listen, especially when you're sharing a message that they've heard before. That's why this combination of catchy song with colorful animation works.

BONUS: Taco Bell - Conference call backgrounds

Full disclosure, I’m a Taco Bell addict and superfan.

Taco Bell released 10 conference call backdrops that people can use on Zoom (and other programs that let you replace your background).

Again proving Taco Bell knows its customers better than pretty much any brand out there, I ate these up (no pun intended).

I don’t have anything clever to say about these. They put a smile on my face and the people who I had Zoom calls with. 😃

Marketing in a time of crisis

There really is no “best approach” for marketing during a crisis. But I think the thing that all  these marketing videos have in common is that they are true to the brand making them. They all seem like, “Well of course (insert brand here) would do that!” – which means these companies all know exactly who they are and who they’re talking to.





Picture of Guy bauer, founder of umault

Guy has been making commercial videos for over 20 years and is the author of “Death to the Corporate Video: A Modern Approach that Works.” He started the agency in 2010 after a decade of working in TV, film and radio. He’s been losing hair and gaining weight ever since.

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