Early in the pandemic, brands quickly pivoted their messaging and focused on connecting with consumers through sincere and empathetic marketing. However, marketing data from May suggests that consumers were growing tired of the “we’re all in this together” messaging and the over-sensitive expressions of empathy from companies who were not backing it up with action. According to a survey by market research platform Dynata, 66% of consumers found ads and social media messaging from brands to be repetitive, and 67% wanted to see greater variety. While it is clear that consumers are bored of redundant COVID-focused marketing messages, the survey results don’t make clear what marketing messages consumers find relevant or memorable. Authentic, differentiated campaigns, like the ones detailed below, that use lighter tones to show support of the community may appeal to crisis-weary customers.
Brands Lighten Up COVID-19 Inspired Marketing Efforts
A recent survey by market research firm Magrid for Marketing Dive showed that 50% of Gen Z consumers and 30% of all age groups surveyed feel boredom as the pandemic grinds on. Content described as fun is what they most want to see in marketing. IKEA and Twisted Tea are responding to this shift in attitude with humorous and clever ad campaigns.
Twisted Tea: Get Creative
Twisted Tea’s new “Get Creative” campaign uses the pandemic theme but celebrates how their customers are living through it. It refers to 2020 as a “wild year” and salutes everyone who “gets wild with it.” The ads feature customers who have used creativity to party safely with their products, including a man who catapults a Twisted Tea to his friend from a safe social distance and a moving pool party in the back of a truck. Twisted Tea engages leverages the “pop-up concert” trend, within which bands that would usually perform in crowded bars or public arenas are entertaining outdoors, to spontaneously engage local audiences and encourage consumer-to-consumer marketing through a call for the shared stories on social media.
IKEA: Look Forward, Get Healthy
IKEA’s “Tomorrow Starts Tonight” campaign creates a compelling backstory to the famous tortoise and the hare fable. The slick TV and social media spot, directed by Sam Pilling, shows a hip but irresponsible hare the night before the big race, partying with his friends (no mask, no social distance), staying up late playing video games and watching YouTube videos. Meanwhile, the tortoise in his cozy IKEA-outfitted bedroom, is resting up for his big win. “Tomorrow Starts Tonight” is part of a lighthearted, larger campaign called “Look Forward, Get Healthy” which touts the benefits of sleep to promote IKEA bedroom furniture and soft goods while appealing to consumers trying to stay healthy in today’s risky environment.
Brands Earn Consumer Recognition With “Feel Good” Campaigns
Consumers have a heightened awareness today of how businesses interact with stakeholders, local communities and society. Google and Walmart are seeking to earn brand loyalty through upbeat and positive “feel good” stories of their community-support practices.
Google: Support The Places Near You
In the introduction to their “Support the Places Near You” campaign, Google states: “This year, people around the world are searching ‘near me’ more than ever. And right now, those places need our help. Support the places near you, with a little help from Google.” The Google campaign encourages users to visit local businesses that have continued to serve customers through the pandemic, such as drive-in movies, take-out restaurants and barber shops. Google is also encouraging users to support service organizations in their communities, including food banks and pet shelters. Even as people migrate their shopping online, Google is helping people find and support local businesses, and building brand equity at the same time.
Walmart: Spark Of Opportunity
Walmart’s new ad features the stories of managers who have moved ahead in the company and the upbeat song “Movin’ On Up” by Primal Scream. The polished managers hold photographs of themselves as awkward teenagers, crediting Walmart with providing opportunities, helping them build confidence, caring and showing empathy for others. In the ad, Walmart makes the claim that 75% of their management started as cashiers, including the President and CEO, Doug McMillon. The alignment of the song’s lyrics, “I was blind, but now I see. You made a leader out of me,” with the message, “The sky’s the limit with Walmart,” create the right tone for customers craving positive messaging and brands that support their employees through tough times.
Brands Position Social Responsibility Front and Center
The pandemic accelerated the shift in consumerism from valuables to values. As such, companies with genuine and authentic corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaigns are connecting with conscientious customers. Nike, IcyHot and Mastercard have focused ad campaigns on their support for causes beyond the current crisis.
Nike: You Can’t Stop Us
Nike’s “You Can’t Stop Us” campaign, released at the end of July, can be seen as the model “moving past the pandemic” ad. And, the campaign was an instant success, garnering more than 20 million viewers on Twitter in the first two days. Nike regularly makes relevant connections with causes larger than itself, including the much anticipated return to professional sports and support for student athletes, disabled athletes and Olympic athletes whose dreams are on hold due to the pandemic. Nike honors the integrity of activism and the grit needed to overcome injury. With their “You Can’t Stop Us” campaign, Nike helps America turn the corner on COVID-19, looking toward the future of sport while celebrating the persistence and resilience athletes have demonstrated throughout history, making the pandemic seem like just another challenge to overcome.
IcyHot: Student Athletes
IcyHot is connecting to their audience’s love of the game by showing support for student athletes who have been “sidelined” by COVID-19. The company has pledged to donate one dollar from every IcyHot product sold to the Shaquille O’Neal foundation, which supports school sponsored athletics. The IcyHot “Student Athletes” campaign drives interested consumers to their website, where they offer an application for the student athlete grant and resources for student athletes to “get game ready for when the time is right” to return to play.
Mastercard: Stand Up To Cancer: Treat Your Coworkers
Mastercard’s recent campaign features the new “co-worker,” the family pet, with a humorous, lighthearted ad that shows the “silver lining” of the pandemic for those working from home: more time with the fur family. Every good dog deserves a treat, and Mastercard has pledged to donate a penny from each qualifying purchase to Stand Up to Cancer, with a total donation of up to $4 million. With their pet-focused initiative, Mastercard shifts the narrative to a positive part of pandemic life and builds brand equity with civic-minded consumers who want to support something beyond the current crisis.
Successfully engaging marketing campaigns are not ignoring or turning their backs on the continuing crisis, but they are transitioning toward a more upbeat and positive tone, connecting with Americans who are continuing to live their lives in the best ways possible. Social responsibility remains a high priority for consumers, and ad campaigns that show authentic support for the community and causes beyond the pandemic are building brand equity.
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