The Good, the Bad and the Unnecessary: COVID-19 related ads reviewed

COVID-19 has changed the marketing game, as consumers’ needs and behaviours have changed fundamentally. Delivery services are on the up, as are certain other goods, from gym equipment to bread machines. But others are of course less in demand. 

According to a GWI report, “when asked if brands should carry on advertising as normal, just over a third agree, over a quarter disagree and over a third aren’t sure. […] Disapproval peaks in Germany at 60%, followed by France at 40%.So, if you want to advertise, you need to adapt. And the big question is how? Pulling off a traditional TV or online video shoot is completely out of the window for most, meaning the average brand will have to make do with much less. Reusing old materials in a new fashion is one way, or going totally 3D and digital another.

A number of brands have tried to pull off this difficult challenge, with varying results. We pulled together our Creation and Production (C&P) expertise, more specifically our Senior Creative Strategist Anke Heyser Ramos and Creative Director Lennart Frank, with our brand guru Jennifer Tietze, for a deep dive into what brands have produced during this difficult time. 

Here’s two they loved… and one they thought should have stayed on the drawing board.

A great ad melds data-driven insights, brand strategy and creative expertise. We’re happy to provide our expertise in pandemic-appropriate remote sessions. Contact us at or this contact form.

Top marks go to…

Netflix (sort of)

“If the virus doesn’t stop you from going out, these spoilers will.“

The first thing to note about this campaign – arguably one of the buzziest – is that it never went live. It wasn’t even made by the streaming behemoth. Instead the OOH spec campaign is the work of two students, Seine Kongruangkit and Matithorn Prachuabmoh Chaimoungkalo, coming straight from Hamburg’s Miami Ad School. Funnily enough, this was the campaign that drove home the message #staythefuckhome better than all of the others did.

In a nutshell: the two students put together an OOH campaign which posted spoilers from popular Netflix shows, from Stranger Things to Narcos and Love is Blind. After all, who would want to go out and accidentally find out what happened in the season finale of their favourite show? This well-produced, simple and on-point ad campaign hits the mark – and avoided any serious criticism by virtue of the fact it never went live.

There was no doubt across our team that it fits the Netflix brand to a tee, noting the use of the “spoiler” concept – a concept only used in the television industry. But it’s a big ‘what if’. Would it have worked for Netflix? A big plus is that it doesn’t feel like it’s jumping on a trend for the sake of it. Furthermore, brands are supposed to give orientation – which is even more important in a time of crisis like COVID-19. With this campaign, Netflix would have shown that they care about the people, using their brand to help overcome the crisis.

One issue saw our panel divided: the ethics of spoilering. A debate split our panel, one centered around whether it was unfair towards the essential workers who have to commute to work. While some of our panel concurred, our panelist Anke was less sure: “The world is not going to end if you know the ending of your favourite show,” she said.

On the whole, given that it’s an empty threat, our team felt that it sent the right message. Top marks to the underdog!

Edeka, “Jeder eurer Schritte” 2020

Of all brands, supermarkets have been front and centre of the COVID-19 crisis – as a public space that it’s still possible to visit and that’s also essential for our day-to-day survival. German supermarket chain Edeka’s ad was popular with our panel, focusing on the fact they chose not to really advertise anything. Instead, they made a simple but insightful comment on keeping social distancing up in the supermarket. After all, the supermarket is one retail outpost that isn’t struggling under COVID-19 – so showing off the supermarket’s hottest delicacies would have been both unnecessary and perhaps inappropriate at the current time. 

What was the message? Shopping is still safe…when we all watch our steps. Creating a sense of community and thanking the customers for their solidarity, this was an on-point ad making a sociocultural observation. Integrating the shuffle dance into the ad, one we’ve all seen replicated in supermarkets and sidewalks, was a great inclusion, helping to increase the humility, likability and reliability of the spot.

High marks surprisingly also went to their production values – with the showing of feet being an ingenious way to ensure all necessary COVID-19 safety measures are taken during the shoot. On the brand side, all of our panelists felt that this would do wonders for Edeka long term. In short, people will remember this ad, and associate Edeka with trustworthiness and empathy – just like a friend.

And one that didn’t hit the mark…

Mercedes-Benz, ‘Danke an alle, die ihr Bestes geben’, 2020

It was a big dog that didn’t impress our panel so much: Mercedes-Benz. In their ad, a car sits idly outside a house. A number of thank you’s then flash up on the screen, focusing on a number of different indispensable workers during COVID-19, from supermarket cashiers to firefighters. The ad closes by thanking everybody else who has stayed still. It shows the German car manufacturer supports both those still on the move, as well as those who have stayed home for public health reasons.

“This could have been done by any mobility provider in the world,” said Anke. Of course, the normal creative yardsticks currently don’t apply, meaning the lack of visual splendor escaped the scrutiny of our panel. However, they felt like the message required some finetuning. At this point, “stay home” and “thank you” is a bit obsolete. Couldn’t they have come up with something slightly more inventive? Also: couldn’t it have been one message rather than two?

As a mobility provider, our panel felt the brand could have done more – and we had a bunch of ideas for them. Instead of just saying thank you, why not provide a lower-risk means of transportation for essential workers? Relevancy for the brand could have been gained by extending the story a tad further: for instance by giving the car keys to somebody who really needs the safety of riding in a car instead of public transport.

Despite the lack of daring, our brand expert Jenny felt that it efficiently gave across the impression of a caring and sympathetic brand, one standing for stability in tough times. Of course, it won’t help them shift cars – but that was never the intention.

Whatever you’re doing, please #staythefuckhome.


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