COVID-19 has interrupted our norms. The springtime I had envisioned for myself is nowhere close to my reality. Instead of grilling out, weddings at the beach, Easter morning with my family and eating on restaurant patios, this is what my new normal looks like: commuting from my bedroom to my living room, interacting with friends, family and coworkers only from behind a screen, celebrating when I find toilet paper at the store and binge-watching all of Tiger King in a week. Can anyone else relate?
Yet the thing is, I’ve started to adapt to this new normal. That doesn’t mean I’m not excited to get back to my usual routine – it just means I’ve accepted things have to be this way for a little while. I changed my tune because I had to. And the same is true in the world of marketing right now. My nerdy self has loved seeing the shift in ads the last few weeks, and it made me realize: Marketers and advertisers are also changing their tunes and messages to meet their audience exactly where they are.
I started taking note of the ads I came across on TV and social media that spoke to me as an individual. And, they taught me some pretty cool lessons about marketing during COVID-19, or really during any uniquely difficult period – for a story, an ask, an ad to be effective, you have to meet your audience where they are, even if it’s not exactly where you want them to be. Even though I’m about to share some non-nonprofit examples, these practices should ring true for every organization that has a story to tell and is wondering how to adapt that story during this time. What’s the bottom line? Sometimes you have to change your tune so your audience can hum along.
Here are a few examples of organizations I thought did that well – get ready to see some ad targeting at its finest:
We definitely had March madness this year but not in the typical, fun way that we expected. There’s nothing I love more than Tar Heel basketball, so the cancelation of the NCAA Tournament and all other sports was heartbreaking. I can only imagine how much more heartbreaking it was for the athletes themselves. But somehow, DICK’s was able to capture that rallying, communal, nostalgic sentiment that sports can provide, and they did so in a one-minute ad. It feels grassroots. It feels authentic. It makes you want to whip out the old VCR and play back some home videos of your own. It shows the importance of family, of creativity, of activity during this time at home. Being stuck inside doesn’t mean you can’t play your heart out. I dare you to watch it and not feel the urge to get up and move.
This is quite possibly my favorite commercial I’ve seen thus far, simply because it seems so contradictory. We’re seeing a company use their marketing dollars to tell their audience to NOT use their service during this time. And quite frankly, it’s genius. Uber is painting themselves into the bigger picture. They acknowledged that their service is irrelevant right now since everyone is staying home, but they’ve still found an opportunity to communicate with their customers. They’ve swapped out their usual messaging (“ride with us”) for a more important one – stay home. It’s sentimental, it’s smart and it’s sensitive to the fact that there are bigger things going on right now.
I’m sure I’m a little biased, but to me, Chick-fil-A is the epitome of fast food. And #thelittlethings campaign has made me emotional more than once. Restaurants are now having to shift their business models to focus on delivery and takeout rather than a dining-in experience. Chick-fil-A wanted to ensure its customers that they’re still here for them, even in these changing circumstances. Simple, community-focused and fun, this ad addresses the potential fears of their customers by letting them know the ways they’ve adapted as an organization during this time. Most importantly, it simply reminds their nugget-loving audience that they are there for them and ready to serve them, even if it’s not their traditional way of serving.
It will certainly be interesting to see whether the 2020 Census turnout is higher this year because of everyone staying at home. Regardless, they’ve done a great job shifting their messaging during this time. Their tagline of “Come Together, Respond Today,” really illustrates how people can support their community with a simple task that will have an impact for years to come. This spot also points to hope of the future, talking about how good times will come again. Right now, people are looking forward to a “brighter tomorrow” – and connecting their ask (to fill out the census) to that brighter tomorrow is brilliant.
See the trend here? Nostalgia, home videos, community. Tylenol, like DICK’s Sporting Goods, gives you “the feels” with this one, while getting across an important message: stay home. Stay home for the people who are on the frontlines fighting COVID-19. Stay home for each other. While it’s certainly strategic for them to show their support for the healthcare community, there’s no real ask in this ad, related to Tylenol at least. They’re using their position in the medical space to ask people first and foremost to look out for one another by staying home.
So yes, like me, I’m sure advertising companies wish they could produce ads right now about grilling out, weddings at the beach, Easter morning with the family and eating on restaurant patios – but they’re not. Instead, they’re emphasizing the importance of community while empathizing with their community. And ultimately, they’re encouraging their community by letting them know they’re in this with them. At Angel Oak Creative, we’d encourage you to do the same – meet your audience, your clients, your donors, your followers right where they are. Be empathetic. Be relatable. Be flexible. Be encouraged.
And, as you watch Tiger King or scroll through Instagram over the next few weeks, I encourage you to do so with a keen eye – you might be surprised what moves you!
– Hannah Jessen, Digital Account Executive