Companies release hit or miss ad campaigns since beginning of COVID-19

There’s always the possibility for a marketing team to screw up, but ad-making is even higher stakes during a pandemic.

Ever since we began shutdowns in March, every type of company, from local businesses to giant corporations, has put out messages of hope or pleas to abide by guidelines. They’ve been hit or miss. Some ad campaigns have been truly heartwarming and have spread a message of hope to the public and healthcare workers. Others have missed the mark as completely tone-deaf attempts to rally the troops. After months of enduring dozens and dozens of COVID-19 ads from every company under the sun, it’s time to reflect.

Students for Netflix

Toward the end of March, posters began to pop up that looked like Netflix posters but were actually designed by a few Miami Ad School students. The posters each had one spoiler for a popular Netflix show with the slogan: “You should’ve #staythef*ckhome.” This campaign was very well-received by the public for its humorous yet serious stance on the issue at hand: staying home.

McDonald’s

Also in March, everyone’s favorite fast food chain announced a temporary logo change to promote social distancing: The golden arches became two separate arches. The public wasn’t as happy with this one, though. McDonald’s continues to pay its workers minimum wage or just above it; the average earnings of a McDonald’s employee are around $8 an hour. McDonald’s has had employees working while symptomatic, but separated its arches in “solidarity.” Most locations did close their dining rooms, but the chain still has a long way to go before it truly stands with its workers and community.

YouTube

YouTube released an ad campaign called “Stay Home #WithMe” featuring creators from the platform. Throughout the ad, creators show their audience that they can still do what they love from home. The YouTubers are shown studying, doing yoga and exercising — pretty much just about activity you can imagine. The ad is lighthearted and a nice break from the heavy, overemotional ads many other companies released.

Norwegian Cruise Line

With incredibly bad timing, Norwegian Cruise Line advertised new deals on cruises during a pandemic. It played off the fact that people might be bored of sitting at home and emphasized lowered rates, continuing their longstanding “feel free” campaign. Many travelers were upset by the company’s half-hearted response to the pandemic, especially after receiving next to no help with their cancelled trips and being told the virus “can’t survive” in tropical locations. The campaign was obviously incredibly irresponsible considering the circumstances and, um, read the room?

Heinz

Heinz released a campaign that introduced the “Ketchup Puzzle.” The video mentioned that good things take time, a welcomed response to the pandemic. Many people are in a rush to return to normal, but Heinz encourages us to take our time and sit down with a puzzle: a Ketchup Puzzle. It’s lighthearted tone is, again, nice to see in this time period.

KFC

In any other time, KFC’s recent ad might have worked. But it came across as one of the most tone-deaf commercials of late. The entire ad is just clips of people eating KFC and then licking their fingers. The highlight, though, is when someone licks another person’s fingers. You’d think someone would have considered what a video of people eating in full restaurants and licking each other’s fingers would like in the middle of a pandemic, but I guess not.

When I went home in March, I had no idea what was going on. We weren’t wearing masks yet, people were still going out to restaurants and we were getting new alerts on cases overseas every day. The only consistency was incredibly annoying commercials, broken up by the occasional fun ad campaign, from just about every corporation possible. Coming out of this, the only thing I’ll have learned is if I hear “We’re in this together” one more time, I don’t know what I’ll do. I’ve grown increasingly appreciative of genuinely good marketing teams and after dreaming up a few COVID-19 commercials of my own, I honestly don’t know how they do it. Edited by George Frey | gfrey@themaneater.com

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