Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, audiences became accustomed to seeing positive messaging in adverts, particularly on TV.

Many brands are no strangers to crisis management. However, the global scale surrounding COVID-19 was a first for us all. One fascinating outcome of the coronavirus lockdown has been how well the advertising world has adapted to the pandemic and communicating with their target audiences. 

Compassionate or cynical?

It became a regular occurrence to see adverts on TV using phrases such as “times like these,” “more than ever,” “home,” “family,” and “here for you.” Some are loaded with clichés such as, “we’ve always been there for you,” “we may be apart, but we can stay connected,” and “we’ll get through this together.”

The use of buzzwords combined with sensitive and self-aware advertising sends the audience one overall message – the importance of staying connected.

There has also been a significant rise in positive messaging around kindness and compassion for others. In the US, Cottonelle, one of the world’s largest toilet paper producers, delivered a direct message to ease consumers’ concerns and discourage panic buying. Instead, the brand urged people to “Stock up on generosity,” and simultaneously launched a campaign called #ShareASquare, in partnership with the charity, United Way. The brand pledged $1 million and one million rolls of toilet paper to United Way COVID-19 Community Response and Recovery Fund and encouraged customers to use the hashtag #ShareASquare on social media. For every post, the brand would donate an additional $1 up to $100k. 

But was this messaging a force for good, as some perceived it, or a transparent exploitation of the situation?

The positivity trend

The impact of positive messaging for brands has increased awareness and engagement for some as many had to adapt quickly and were still able to make their ads meaningful and relevant to their target audiences and saw it as an opportunity to be creative and experimental. Many advertisers found an opportunity to encourage consumers to push on through the hardship. Few advertisements did this better than Amazon. In the 2020 advertisement titled ‘The Show Must Go On’, we follow the story of a young dancer whose performance is cancelled due to the pandemic. She must pave her own way to perform with the help of her community. And she does as she obtains resources through Amazon so that the show may go on. What works best in this motivational advertisement is its visual storytelling. With almost no dialogue, the entire ad carries out a full arc that inspires and motivates. This advert showed the creativity, imagination, and innovation that can come from socially-distanced sets and a smaller production team. 



Even at Christmas, UK advertisers were forecast to spend £724m less in 2020, which is a 10.5% fall from 2019. This reflects a general trend of 2020, with COVID-19 leading brands to be more cautious with their spending. John Lewis was also one brand that played the kindness card rather than their traditional gift-giving narrative this year with an advert titled “Give A Little Love.” 


Audience awareness

Some people have even compared the messaging throughout the pandemic to the likes of the “We Can Do It!” (Rosie the Riveter) World War II poster that aimed to boost morale among female workers.

There is no doubt though that audiences (who are, on the whole, much smarter than brands often give them credit for) and advertisers alike are aware of their attitudes towards positive messaging throughout the pandemic. One YouTuber even created a parody with an edited supercut video of COVID-19 adverts that all use exactly the same tropes and phrases in response to the pandemic, titled “Every Covid-19 Commercial is Exactly the Same.”



The COVID-19 pandemic saw a rapid change and adaption across the advertising industry, both in messaging and strategy, for good or bad. But, with restrictions now easing in the UK and globally, we question whether the positivity and supportive messaging of brands was a brief trend or a sign of things to come?


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