Do crazy Covid times call for new comms campaigns?

The world of brands and marketing has changed and will never be the same again, if you believe headlines in the marketing press. So, you need to chuck out all your marketing campaigns and start again, right? Wrong. Of course, we are living in crazy times and it can feel like life’s been turned upside down. But research published by the smart folk at System 1 suggest that FRESH CONSISTENCY is still what you need in your marketing (1).

1. Pre-crisis ads are just as effective today

System 1 analysed their extensive database of ads throughout the crisis to generate insights about how how ads have been working. Specifically, they re-tested ads that had been evaluated pre-crisis, in Jan/Feb 2020, to see how they performed during the pandemic pandemonium. “The headline finding is that ads from before the crisis have not declined in effectiveness,” reports the System 1 team (see below). So, your pre-Covid marketing may, in fact, still be effective.

These results make sense when you consider the results from other research into the evolution of human needs we posted on here. Our behaviours (the ‘HOW’) have been completely and suddenly electro-shocked: we’ve stockpiled toilet rolls, bought lots of hand sanitiser, binged on Netflix, suffered from Zoom fatigue and we miss the pub. However, the fundamental human needs of mainstream consumers (the ‘WHY?’) have not significantly changed during the crisis compared to two years ago (see below).


2. Dig for treasure in past campaigns

One fascinating nugget of insight concerned testing of Budweiser beer ads. This showed that the brand’s Wassup ad, re-aired 2o years after it came out, performed BETTER in System 1 testing than either:

i. an attempt to update the original to explicitly refer to quarantine (Checking in, That’s Wassup)

ii.  one of the many serious ‘We’re all in this together and we salute the heros’ ads (One Team)

This is a graphic illustration of a couple of things. First, it shows the power of fresh consistency: remember and refresh what made you famous and avoid throwing the brand magic out with the Covid bathwater. Second, it shows how we are thirsty for brands to not only ease the pain, but also to entertain and take our minds OFF the bloody virus, as we posted on here. Best of all are action-focused campaigns that help people out but also have the right brand tonality. For example, Brew Dog’s virtual bar allows you to share a beer online, take part in virtual pub quizzes or homebrew masterclasses and win merchandise.

The Bud example also suggests it might be worth digging for some brand treasure in your past campaigns!

3. Tell a distinctive human story that connects

If you are going to make a new ad, how can you increase your chances of success? Here, System 1 have some useful guidelines, based on their extensive data base of ad testing (1).

Working well

  • Distinctive brand properties: are key to creating the fresh consistency that builds memory structure. Examples of properties include characters, such as the Philadelphia Schmelier, who “goes to extreme lengths to craft the perfect cream cheese”, and storylines such as Weetabix’s ‘She’s had her Weetabix’.
  • Set in the past: “enable you to show groups, human connection and humor, while avoiding any sensitivities associated with a modern-day context,” suggest System 1, with an example being a Doritos ad (US) which parodies a Western gun duel scene.
  • Celebrating ‘betweenness’: particularly in household and small group settings, such as the Budweiser Wassup campaign discussed above.
  • Connection to place and community: such as a Patak’s sauces ad (UK) depicting the Patak family’s arrival in the UK.

Working less well

  1. Direct ‘hard sell’: ads that stress price and offers, at last in this stage of the crisis
  2. Focusing on things: ads focused on things or making things rather than people
  3. Vanity or self-image: ads that are highly self-conscious and encourage you to project an image to the world
  4. Aggressive, competitive: high energy, loud and aggressive ads work less well in the current context.

In conclusion, today’s crazy Covid times don’t mean you have to chuck out all your campaigns and start again. Fresh consistency is still the key to effective marketing and you might even be able to ‘do a Budweiser’ and find some treasure buried in your campaigns of the past that is just as effective today!