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Advertising in Lockdown, What’s right, right now

As the lockdown continues, people will turn more to brands to offer an escape – so how should they be communicating?

The National Impact

The UK and Ireland are now well into our second month of lockdown to slow the spread of the Coronavirus. During that time, a lot of things have changed; our daily routines have been altered, our means of communication have adapted, and the way we behave has forever been transformed.

Like most companies, we have had to adapt to this new world, with meetings and client presentations moved to the digital sphere, which has created both benefits, and drawbacks. In one way, the world is now more connected than ever before, as we keep in touch with those most important more often, but in another sense, we are more disconnected from real world experiences, due to social distancing measures.

As the lockdown continues, people will turn more and more to brands to offer an escape, but should brands be active?

How Coronavirus is Impacting Brands

It’s not just individuals who’ve been affected by the global Coronavirus pandemic, brands across every industry and sector have been impacted, from FMCG to Finance, not one has been left unscathed by the crushing force of COVID-19.

Marketing and customer facing communications have been put on hold as response to the crisis. According to Marketing Week, 55% of marketers have delayed campaigns since March.

Figures released on 30th April in the Advertising Association/Warc Expenditure Report, which is regarded as one of the industry’s most authoritative surveys, found UK ad expenditure is set to plunge 16.7% this year because of the coronavirus lockdown and expected economic slump, with the second quarter set to crash 39.1%.

Whilst, for some, this is a cost saving exercise to protect cash reserves, for others this is simply down to not knowing what to say or how to act. In fact, at the beginning of the pandemic, many brands pulled campaigns to avert negativity, as many experienced push-back for flouting social distancing in creative or were accused of cashing in on consumer concerns around health.

However, not all brands stopped their communications, in fact many adapted their messaging to champion their support for the crisis, with brands like Pret-a-Manger, Deliveroo and Uber supporting those most vulnerable in society with free food and transport. But not all brands got their messaging right at first; Coca-Cola for example went out with a generic “Thank You” message, which was greeted with negativity, because it was not seen as authentic and the brand was not seen to be providing support. Later Coca-Cola addressed this, by donating its marketing spend of $120 million to COVID-19 relief efforts, in doing so the brand turned around the negativity and created a good news story for its customers.

As far as the ‘right for the right now’ ads go, an ITV spot has topped a list of the most emotionally engaging ads that respond to the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic and life under lockdown. According to research just published by video adtech company Unruly, the ‘Britain get talking; Apart, but never alone’ ad received an “intense emotional reaction” from more than 40% of the UK public, – which is twice what a ‘normal’ ad provokes.

Advertising During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Not all brands have the luxury of having stars and tv spots at their disposal of course, and although not all brands can support the crisis with large donations or physical support, that doesn’t mean that advertising should be ruled out. In fact, recent data from Kantar shows that only 8% of consumers believe brands should stop advertising through the Coronavirus pandemic. However, how we should advertise has changed; data shows us only 37% of consumers want brands to advertise as normal, meaning messaging is key for brands who do advertise (Global Web Index, 2020). Furthermore, 71% of consumers think brands should adopt a reassuring tone and that they should talk about how they could be useful in the new form of everyday life.

Communicating During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Historically, brands often talk about building meaningful connections with their audiences. Now they must. No longer a buzzword in marketing, it’s those brands who are supportive, tackling the crisis head-on who are winning market share with consumers long term.

“In our new reality, brands should properly contribute to the greater good. They should solve, not sell”.

(The Drum, 2020)

But how should brands do this?

Firstly, it’s about showing your brand is supporting in the crisis – 75% of consumers believe brands should inform people about their efforts to face the situation. This doesn’t always mean giving donations, it could simply be informing customers you’re still operational, delivering and ensuring staff safety. Secondly, it’s about giving consumers a positive perspective or an escape from their everyday. Thirdly, it’s about providing practical information that will help them to deal with the current situation and its long-term repercussions.

How Brands are Rising to the Coronavirus Challenge

To help illustrate our point, regarding advertising during the Coronavirus pandemic, we’ve selected some of the best we’ve seen.

Land Rover vs Jeep

Two titans of automotive production, but two very different approaches to messaging, with Jeep focusing on a reassurance message for consumers. Asking them quite simply to stay at home, because adventure awaits when the pandemic is over. Land Rover, on the other hand, has adopted an action message, by donating their vehicles to front line workers, in support of the wider community. Both messages convey a simple truth, that both brands are doing their part in different ways during this time of hardship.

Gumtree vs Ikea

Two very different types of marketplace, one physical and one digital, but both equally concerned with a common goal: getting people to stay indoors.  Ikea has focused on the home itself, whilst Gumtree has taken the approach of how staying indoors helps the community overall, with a simple thank you message told in a powerful way.


Vodafone, much like Gumtree, has focused on the idea of togetherness, which has seen their Coronavirus campaign take on the micro moments we experience every day during the lockdown. Creatively executed with raw, phone shot footage to tell an interesting brand narrative around the core theme of togetherness.


An absolute winner of an ad – stripped back and to the point, featuring an earnest and engaging Kevin Bacon simply giving every NHS worker unlimited data from EE until October.  Every. Feelgood. Box. Ticked.

Birds Eye

Birds Eye cleverly adopted a message of support for consumers, calling out that shoppers have bigger worries than what’s for dinner. This simple advert conveys that the brand understands what people are facing and it’s family that’s most important. Likewise, a similar advert from McCain’s draws on the importance of highlighting family during this period; while not created for the Coronavirus crisis, it lends itself perfectly to the current situation and the narrative brands should take.


Budweiser cleverly achieved two things in its Coronavirus campaign, firstly updating a cult classic for a new age of consumers, with a relevant quarantine theme. Secondly, and more importantly, drove home a very important message, to check in on friends and family who may feel isolated due to social distancing.

Still undecided on your next campaign?

If your brand is struggling with the decision to advertise or how to communicate effectively during the Coronavirus pandemic, why not reach out to us at or follow us on LinkedIn for future updates.