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    Top 10 pandemic ad campaigns and their takeaway lessons for business owners

    Top 10 pandemic ad campaigns and their takeaway lessons for business owners

    This month, the world celebrated it’s second covidversary. And while I wish I could start this article with a long-awaited “now that the pandemic is ...

    This month, the world celebrated it’s second covidversary. And while I wish I could start this article with a long-awaited “now that the pandemic is finally over…”, I, unfortunately, can’t do that. 

    We’re still “in it together”, still going through changes the sudden WFH regime has bestowed upon us, and are still fighting for our dear lives in corporate group chats instead of doing it in-person.

    But time heals and two years is a long time. After a while, we got used to doing work meetings in our pajamas, checking not only visa requirements but also COVID restrictions when planning holidays, and abandoning the very European habit of kissing people on cheeks. The aforementioned progression to the new normal has been documented in our personal messages, camera rolls, and — of course — ad campaigns. In this weird episode of nostalgia, we’re going to look back at the best creations of marketing gurus working from home. 

    After all, there’s much more to take out of a global pandemic than trauma, two shots of the vaccine and a pet with a newly developed separation anxiety. Coronavirus-time ads did teach us a lesson or two. And if the new world will still have the virus trail, we better learn those well. 

    So, let’s walk down memory lane and revise the takeaway lessons of the pandemic ads.

    10 best ad campaigns of the last 2 years and why they were so good

    Witty campaign and company slogans and impressive production aside, the best lesson we’ve learnt from businesses launching ads throughout the pandemic was to be timely with your campaigns

    The covid-craze has been widely unpredictable. It’s almost impossible to remember every sudden turn of events we’ve been through in the past two years — there were simply too many. Lockdown one, restrictions lifted, Delta variant making its appearance, Lockdown two, and so on. Just like us, brands had to pivot again and again to fit the global mood. 

    After a while, tributes to healthcare workers went from contemporary to corny. Stay-at-home messages kept swinging from being relevant to dated as the world was getting swept by different virus variants and then getting opened back up. 

    The brands that enjoyed the most success were the ones that adjusted their messages and tone for the period in which they were released. 

    Other than that… Let’s open our pandemic ads hall of fame and see what else we can learn!

    KFC — KFC is Back! 

    What was the deal? 

    When the pandemic first hit, a lot of restaurants closed down or had to reduce their menus due to the shortage of products and delayed supplies. Unhappy with the involuntary change to their eating habits, fast food lovers attempted to recreate their favorites at home. Some restaurants (read: Burger King) supported this and shared the recipes to their most famous menu items with the fans; others — including KFC — did not.

    This, however, didn’t stop KFC enthusiasts from trying. The trend had already started, and people — stuck at home, still unsure about how to adjust to the lockdown life — had nothing better to do. Social media accounts started getting flooded with pics of DIY KFC chicken meals. 

    KFC social media managers noticed it, too. They used all that content in their KFC is Back! campaign celebrating the reopening of 500 of its restaurants in May. The array of successful — and failed — chicken wings, tenders, and strips à la KFC was followed by a laconic: “We missed you too. But we’ll take it from here”. 

    What was good about it? With this campaign, KFC receives not one, but three medals from us: one for being extremely self-aware and on track with social media popular culture; one for tapping into User-Generated Content; and one for being so witty with their copy. 

    Key takeaway: Make good use of User-Generated Content!

    To continue with fast-food restaurants and their pandemic ads, let’s move on to Burger King. They’ve had more than just the Whopper Recipe to share with the audience during tough times.

    Burger King — Moldy Whopper

    Why Burger King Is Proudly Advertising a Moldy Whopper
    Source: AdWeek

    What was the deal? 

    While not exactly a COVID-influenced ad (Moldy Whopper was released before everything went down, in early February 2020), this one definitely blew up majorly thanks to the pandemic. 

    Moldy Whopper falls into the “we’re all isolated and it’s okay” category, and this is exactly what made it so appealing. Instead of cheering people up, Burger King tried to be “one with the crowd” and showed a 34-day timelapse of its most famous burger — the very Whopper the restaurant then shared the recipe for — decaying. (Not going to lie, we’ve been through the feeling of rotting at different stages of the pandemic) 

    The music that accompanied the stomach churning image of a beef patty going fungal is the cherry on top of this ad — “What a difference a day makes”. 

    What was good about it? Burger King tried to prove their burgers didn’t have any artificial ingredients, and they successfully delivered the message by tapping into the shock value. After all, what’s more natural than the feeling of raw disgust? The campaign was bold and almost impossible to take eyes off of — by not shying away from using revolting imagery, they created a campaign that stuck around. 

    Key takeaway: Always try to evoke strong emotions with your ad campaigns. 

    Chipotle — Chipotle Together Live Events

    Source: D1A 

    What was the deal? 

    Even though Chipotle closed its physical doors during the first lockdown, its virtual doors were open for anyone hungry for good vibes. During the first wave of the pandemic, Chipotle regularly hosted lunch parties on Zoom and Instagram Live concerts that featured celebrities like Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski and Kaskade.

    In less than a month, Chipotle Together racked up over 500 million impressions and over 100 stories in the media. 

    What was good about it? Temporarily forced out of operation, Chipotle still found a way to stay on top of its customers’ minds and shower them with positive emotions. The burrito chain has fully leveraged the technology available (and popular) during the pandemic, and reached its target audience where they were — online.  

    Key takeaway: Reach your target audience wherever they are at the moment.

    Mattel — Mattel’s Virtual Playroom

    Source: Mattel

    What was the deal? 

    When the pandemic first hit, Mattel, an American multinational toy manufacturing and entertainment company, decided to build a website that would help working-from-home parents get their children occupied and sane. The brand came out with a digital platform, Mattel’s Virtual Playroom, filled with games, craft projects, printables, videos, and more.

    Richard Dickson, President and COO of Mattel said in a press statement, “We believe in the power of play and how essential it is for child development, especially in these difficult times when so much is in flux for kids and families. We recognize the unique challenges that parents and caregivers are facing right now both working and playing from home and have designed the Mattel Playroom to be a valuable resource for them.”

    What was good about it? Mattel knew exactly who their target audience was and what they needed at the moment. So, it was easy for the brand to bring real value to them. Mattel came out with something legitimately useful and created a positive association with the brand. 

    Key takeaway: Bring your target audience value with every campaign you launch. 

    Aviation Gin — Aviation Gin: Homeschool edition

    What was the deal? 

    Mattel wasn’t the only brand that came out with a perfect pandemic gift for both parents and kids. The only difference is that Aviation Gin’s solution was Ryan Reynoldsified, if you know what we mean. 

    In the 30-second ad video clip, Ryan Reynolds introduced a “homeschool edition” of the original Aviation Gin — “just like the classic, but with more ounces” to help with a variety of subjects “fourth-grade Geography, whatever the f*ck new math is, and revisiting your own long-forgotten middle school traumas”. 

    What was good about it? The brand knew exactly who their target audience was and what they were struggling with at the moment. They pushed some buttons with “Middle school is the f***ing worst!” and got the emotional response they were going for. Plus, seeing Ryan Reynolds is always a pleasure! 

    Key takeaway: Stay on-brand, even when the situation is out of your control. Humor is always a great strategy, too!

    Extra Gum — For When It’s Time

    What was the deal? 

    Extra decided to go all out with this one — instead of a low-budget commercial, the brand released a full-blown short film (with outstanding post-production and everything) imagining what the world after the pandemic would be like! 

    Bear in mind that it was also before the world, on a large scale, knew what Pfizer, Moderna, Coronavac, and Johnson&Johnson were. So, the dream of a restriction-free future was particularly lucrative. 

    Extra played right into it and produced a very visually appealing video that involved lots of French people kissing. *Chef’s kiss*

    YouTube commenters called the ad “the best quarantine commercial ever made” and “the only skippable ad I will never skip.”

    What was good about it? The visual part of it was truly outstanding; every detail mattered. This one is for the books. Plus, the brand gave people that were exhausted from the uncertainty of the pandemic hope that one day — “sometime in the not too distant future” — the world will go back to normal. 

    Key takeaway: If you can, go big, be extra. 

    Billie — Are we doing video?

    What was the deal? 

    This Instagram campaign was very reflective of our WFH days and found a lot of resonance in the hearts of people who were suddenly forced to attend work meetings and conferences via their frontal cameras.

    The campaign showed the natural — unscripted — behavior of people reacting to the image of themselves on camera, and prompted the audience to embrace their flaws.

    As our team began to work remotely, we realized that we were all constantly apologizing for the way we looked during video calls. Our first instinct upon seeing our faces was to say sorry. There’s no doubt that there has been a huge shift in the way women are getting ready in the morning right now, and we kept finding ourselves apologizing for just looking like our natural selves.

    Georgina Gooley, CEO of Billie

    What was good about it? While being pandemic-driven, the ad wasn’t pandemic-centric. The beauty brand tapped into a more deeply-rooted topic and surfaced the problems that — albeit the presence of a much more apparent problem — didn’t go away. With the ad, Billie brought awareness to the topic of human appearances and natural beauty, using an example we all could relate to.

    Key takeaway: Bring awareness to social causes to create public resonance.

    Procter & Gamble — #DistanceDance

    @charlidamelio Stay home & do the #distancedance. Tag me & the hashtag in your video. P&G will donate to Feeding America & Matthew 25 for first 3M videos #PGPartner ♬ Big Up’s (feat. Yung Nnelg) – Jordyn, Nic Da Kid

    What was the deal? 

    On the onset of the pandemic, Procter & Gamble teamed up with Charli D’Amelio, the biggest star of TikTok, to kick off the #DistanceDance challenge on the platform. This was the brand’s way of encouraging young people to practice social distancing all while having fun at home.

    To make the campaign even more meaningful (and, of course, to increase the campaign’s chances of virality), for the first 3 million videos posted, P&G donated to Feeding America & Matthew 25: Ministries to help families in need.

    What was good about it? Procter & Gamble realized the newly formed habits of their target audience, knew exactly what was on trend at the time, and incorporated it into their campaign. By giving Charli D’Amelio the freedom of choice over the music track and the moves of the challenge, the brand managed to stay in line with the platform. 

    Key takeaway: Stay up to date with the latest social media trends; try out new formats.

    State of New York — Wear a Mask

    What was the deal? 

    State of New York decided to repack the regular PSA message in a slightly different format. Together with Ogilvy Health, they’ve produced a darkly comedic video clip where scary met funny. In the video, State of New York gave an explanation as to why a Jason Voorhees-like slasher was scaring people off — he was simply wearing the wrong kind of mask.

    What was good about it? From the first second of the clip, you know where it’s headed. Anyone over the age of 15 knows where the mask is from and what connotations it has. Wearing a mask can, indeed, be scary. Not wearing one can be deadly. 

    Key takeaway: Tap into popular culture for inspiration and spin familiar images around to deliver your message. 

    Emily Crisps — Lockdown billboards 

    Emily Crisps’ Lockdown Billboards campaign isn’t something you could recreate unless there’s another worldwide lockdown, which we’d love to never happen again. Still, it was so brilliant we couldn’t leave it out from the list. 

    What was the deal? 

    Emily Crisps is a relatively small UK crisps brand. So, launching the first outdoor campaign was a big deal for them. The campaign itself was pretty alright and had all the chances of being successful. If only it wasn’t launched in April 2020, exactly when the streets of London went deserted. 

    The brand didn’t cry a river about that. Instead, they managed to turn the unfortunate situation around and use it to their advantage. They adapted the copy of the citylights and billboards to poke fun at the ads’ timing and placement misfortune. 

    The public loved it! Instead of only getting traction outdoors, the brand also managed to make its way indoors — the campaign got lots of recognition on social media.

    What was good about it? The campaign featured a light, slightly comical, and simple message. Moreover, it was timely and self-aware. 

    Key takeaway: There’s a way to turn tables even if you’re seemingly hitting a dead end. 


    According to a study by the Advertising Benchmark Index from July 2020, pandemic ads were more effective than business-as-usual ones in promoting brand reputation, perceived ad relevance, and overall effectiveness. But only granted that they:

    • Showed a clear connection to the sponsor
    • Offered an optimistic angle
    • Were timely

    Keep that in mind when building your post-pandemic ad campaigns! Even the most unfortunate of situations can be turned around; you just have to find an alternative angle and apply some creativity.

    And don’t forget — VistaCreate and our VistaCreate Blog are always there to aid your creativity and marketing success. Make sure you regularly check our blog for articles on a variety of marketing and design related topics, and use our product to create professional-looking designs in minutes!

    Valerie Kakovkina

    Content marketing manager at VistaCreate. Valerie loves all things marketing, with her favourite areas being email marketing and social media. When out of the office, Valerie loves travelling, going to parties, and helping her friends with their art projects (oh to be surrounded by artists).

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