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How to Disrupt Your COVID-19 Creative Without Being a Jerk

Published: May 18, 2020

Author: Lauren Dawson

Work from home, wearing masks out in public, social distancing, and of course, baking an endless amount of banana bread: this is life these days and has been for weeks now. As we become more and more ingrained in our socially distanced, quarantined, COVID-19 lifestyles, one thing is for certain: People are looking for more ways to welcome any sort of normalcy in their lives. This includes taking walks around the neighborhood, staying connected with friends and family via video calls, and continuing to keep ourselves busy at home with work and various projects that have been put off for years.
Most aspects of our lives these days are out of sync. But, if there’s one thing that has been particularly abnormal, it’s the tsunami of cliche advertisements that have  been released to the world in the last 6 weeks. Take this compilation of recent commercials, and it’s pretty obvious that every COVID-19 commercial is the same. *Cue somber piano music.*

Many companies releasing Coronavirus ads are telling the same stories. “We are here for you through uncertain times.” “We will get through this together.” “Our services are available to help you from the safety and comfort of your home.” And you’ll probably hear some sort of mention about “people” or “family” being a top priority.
This lack of diversity in advertisements certainly makes sense. Creative teams are tasked with the unique challenge of developing brand-new creative ASAP without access to their normal resources, forcing them to utilize B-roll footage and the most fitting piano stock music they can find.
But now? It’s time for something new. I don’t know about you, but one of the old routines I am yearning to see back in action is watching ads that don’t remind me of the crushing reality of a global pandemic. As people scroll through Instagram and Facebook or watch a new video on YouTube, chances are they are hoping for a quick break, an escape from the reality of the world we are currently living in. We’re all talking about leading with empathy – and right now, that means giving users something new to think about.
With that in mind, I challenge brands to think outside of the box and start getting disruptive again with their advertisements. If there’s ever been a timely opportunity for your brand to test a disruptor concept, it’s now.
But this brings up some very big questions: how can you sound different and supportive without the same somber tone? What could your disruptive creative look like without sounding like a jerk?

Option #1: Rethink the Somber Tone for a More Uplifting One

Times are tough; there’s no denying that. Consumers don’t need, nor do they want, more reminders of that through ads. A recent article from the Search Engine Journal shows that “a majority of consumers are seeking uplifting YouTube content during the COVID-19 pandemic.” According to the article, a survey showed that 80% of U.S. consumers “go to YouTube to improve their mood as they stay home and practice social distancing.” When asked specifically about the types of YouTube advertisements survey respondents want to see, more than 70% said they want to see ads that boost their mood.
What this means for your brand is that your messaging still needs to ensure it’s not being tone deaf, but people are over hearing about “being in this together”. Create uplifting messages that spread positivity, joy, and happiness. Take Smirnoff’s recent ad campaign, for example. Shot back in February to promote their 4th of July Red, White & Berry beverage, their hard work had quickly become nearly irrelevant in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic. Instead of scrapping all of their hard work, or for that matter giving it a sad, somber tone – the brand decided to pivot.

Orange Is the New Black star Laverne Cox said in a statement to AdWeek that “We shot these new Red, White & Berry commercials earlier this year, before the world looked like it does today. Since it’s now so incredibly important that everyone does their part to stay safe, Smirnoff reimagined the work to help bring some levity during this difficult time and inspire people to get creative and stay connected with friends and family while hanging out from home.”
B-roll footage was reimagined in a fun, uplifting way – far different than what we are used to seeing from COVID-19 ads. Without being inconsiderate, Smirnoff was able to pivot their ad campaign with a fresh new tone that still addressed the reality of our world. It definitely got my attention – which means the disruption was a success.

Option #2: Be Informative

Consider layering the uplifting tone with a concept that informs users how your brand can be of service during this time. Many times, advertisers think that you have to create something far-fetched and off-brand in order to be considered a “disruptor concept,” but that actually is not the case. Becca Debono, 3Q’s Director of Creative Strategy, defines disruptive creative as “simply a creative concept that consumers wouldn’t normally expect to see from your brand (or on their feed) and therefore draws higher levels of interest.” Take GoDaddy, for example. Their typical assets are brightly colored with a simple message about bringing your idea online, like this:

So if you’re scrolling through and catch a strong, informative animation with a message about transitioning your business online in all black & white like the example below, you might stop and look twice.

GoDaddy isn’t trying to push the generic message that “we are all in this together.” Instead, the brand is aiming to be informative while standing out from their normal look to address their consumers where they are at right now in a disruptive way. This is an example of how you can be informative, yet disruptive, with your COVID-19 creative.

Option #3: Use the Theater of Sound

Sound has the ability to draw an immediate visceral response from people. It is engaging, captures our attention, and can convey a message without using any words. While many people are working from the comfort of their homes, advertisers should reconsider their general notion that most people aren’t listening to ads with sound on. In fact, I believe that the more time people are spending at home, the more people are listening to ads with sound on since there aren’t many other people around to be distracted by it. This makes it even more effective to use the theater of sound as a disruptive way to catch the attention of your audience.
Squarespace utilizes sound in a subtle way that combines eye-catching visuals and familiar sounds in assets that are directly related to the COVID-19 crisis. The typing and  movement of sound initially draws your attention, while the message and imagery is still drawing awareness to the message.

Disruption is more necessary than ever right now. Your audience wants to see it, and standing out will make your ads more efficient. There are ways to be disruptive without being a jerk during these unprecedented times. By simply shifting to an uplifting tone, getting informative, and utilizing the theater of sound, you can stand out and make an impact. Consider incorporating any (or all!) of these options and see what a difference it makes. Your audience might just thank you for the much-needed shakeup in the somber tone they have become accustomed to hearing.

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