The great messaging race has begun. It started with a frantic rush to pull TV ads that may now make viewers cringe.
In one ad for Apple’s AirPods, a woman is walking the streets of New York City. It’s cramped and overwhelming. She puts in her AirPods and, poof! Manhattan’s streets are empty.
Or there’s a KFC ad, set to Chopin, in which the camera zooms in on people eating fried chicken, licking their fingers and their partners’ fingers.
Television advertising is attempting to make a switch from consumerism to community. Pulling ads is one thing, but it’s hard to shoot a compelling new TV commercial under quarantine.
“We’re getting a lot of calls from clients asking us: ‘Well, what is anyone else doing?'” said Jim Nail, marketing analyst at Forrester. “Just because there’s never been an experience like this that you can reach back to or draw on to give you any guidance.”
Nail said some companies are replaying old ads, while others are making new ones with unused material from previous shoots. They’re pivoting to ads that capture the moment with a tone that’s quiet, contemplative and focused on family.
An AT&T ad that started airing in late March shuffles through photos of empty streets and shuttered storefronts. The voiceover says: “These days, it’s anything but business as usual. That’s why working together is more important than ever.”
Companies that can get creative in this chaos will have an audience: Nielsen data shows that when people are forced to stay home, they watch about 60% more content than usual.
“It’s easier to get the eyeballs,” said Edward Russell, a professor of advertising at Syracuse University, adding that the brands that spend now may fare better during economic downturn. “At the same time, you have to take into account the state that people are in, and what you can do to lessen that and comfort them in some way.”
Comfort in uncertain times can come with a familiar theme: red, white and blue. “After 9/11 we saw very pro-American, let’s-all-get-together kinds of advertising,” said Russell.
After September 11, General Motors put out a series of ads called “Keep America Rolling.” They’re slices of classic Americana. One is shot as if you’re the driver, rolling through what looks like middle America.
TV ads like this tell us a lot about the moment we’re living in, emotionally and economically. Think back to the Superbowl in February when the market was good, unemployment was rock bottom and we still watched live sports. Commercials were energetic, funny and even snarky. It’s likely we won’t see ads like that for a while.
COVID-19 Economy FAQs
Which businesses are allowed to reopen right now? And which businesses are actually doing so?
As a patchwork of states start to reopen, businesses that fall into a gray area are wondering when they can reopen. In many places, salons are still shuttered. Bars are mostly closed, too, although restaurants may be allowed to ramp up, depending on the state. “It’s kind of all over the place,” said Elizabeth Milito of the National Federation of Independent Business.
Will you be able to go on vacation this summer?
There’s no chance that this summer will be a normal season for vacations either in the U.S. or internationally. But that doesn’t mean a trip will be impossible. People will just have to be smart about it. That could mean vacations closer to home, especially with gas prices so low. Air travel will be possible this summer, even if it is a very different experience than usual.
When does the expanded COVID-19 unemployment insurance run out?
The CARES Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in March, authorized extra unemployment payments, increasing the amount of money, and broadening who qualifies. The increased unemployment benefits have an expiration date — an extra $600 per week the act authorized ends on July 31.
You can find answers to more questions here.
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