In the beginning, there was fear. Now, over a year into a global pandemic that shut down the world as we knew it, people are adapting. Businesses everywhere had to adapt and overcome incredible challenges — from insane demand spikes to products deemed non-essential by Amazon — to keep their employees safe, their business afloat, and their customers interested.

Marketing teams suddenly had to walk a tightrope across many different challenges all at once. They had to be sensitive to the realities of the pandemic, they couldn’t push their product too much, couldn’t pander, couldn’t sound condescending, couldn’t sound too upbeat or downbeat. Despite all these restrictions, they still had to deliver a tactful message. They still had products to sell but had to recognize that not everyone might want it (or be able to afford it). How the hell did they manage it? Let’s look at the strategies that did the best and who pulled it off.

Strategy 1: Pivot and Inspire (Nike)

The best campaigns are ones that connect your mission as a company to a message the world needs. During the pandemic, that has meant messages that both show awareness of how customers’ lives are affected and how your product can help (without being too pushy about it). In Nike’s case, they hit both messages out of the park.

The thing is, Nike is so synonymous with shoes that they don’t even need to reference them anymore, so they can get more creative with their ads and focus more on new offerings that the average consumer might not know about. In this case, it was their “digital ecosystem” with tons of home workout videos, live streams, and even kid-friendly content — pretty much the perfect fit for a restless, suddenly gym-less customer. So Nike neatly and simply summed up the solution: stay safe, stay home, and you’ll be playing your part in the worldwide game of minimizing the impact of this virus.

nike

Source: Nike

Strategy 2: Offer an e-Solution (Fiverr)

If you’re lucky, your business may be uniquely positioned to be able to help consumers during this time. However, you’ll still need to think carefully about how to word your marketing campaign so that it doesn’t come across as a tacky cash grab. Fiverr, an online remote work platform, found themselves in exactly that position earlier this year.

To pull it off as Fiverr did, simply show a common problem many of us have faced during the pandemic and show how you can solve it. In the ad, Fiverr shows a company with a canceled project that they really needed to be done. They turned to Fiverr, found people ready and willing to do the work, and ended up with a final result that they loved.

If you find yourself with a business that hits those relevant pain points — think online e-commerce marketplaces, delivery services, even virtual shopping aids — try to highlight that in your upcoming campaign in a relatable way.

Fiverr

Source: Ads of the World

Strategy 3: Make Them Laugh (Burger King)

This is a tough one to pull off, so tread carefully here. The last thing you want to do is make your consumers think you aren’t taking the virus seriously and making light of their problems. Also, if it doesn’t match up with your typical brand tone, just skip it altogether — but Burger King is known as the king of silly, so it fits perfectly.

This lighthearted ad urges customers to be heroes by ordering Burger King through the mobile app (even incentivizing them with free delivery). However, it didn’t end there. After the dramatically lit “couch potato-riots” give a solemn salute, the narrator then goes on to list the ways in which the company is making real contributions to places in need. It ends up being the perfect balance of funny and genuine.

Strategy 4: The Anti-Marketing Ad (Hotels.com)

Sometimes there is just nothing you can do but admit that your product is not only not in demand right now; it’s not even safe to be partaking in. This is the situation that Hotels.com found themselves in, and instead of trying to spin it and market their services anyway, they used it as an opportunity to create a funny and sincere message about public health and why people shouldn’t buy their product.

“Just Stay Home” is as far away as possible from the message a hotel booking service would normally purvey. Interestingly, Hotels.com has spun an entire series using its avatar, “Captain Obvious” from this ad, and they’re refreshingly relatable (in one shot-at-home video clip, Captain Obvious says he doesn’t even know what day it is). The approach this brand has taken seems to be to acknowledge that they’re not going to be getting much traction while our world experiences a 100-year black swan event. But they’ll be damned if they’re not going to build as much goodwill as possible while it’s happening.

Strategy 5: Be Helpful (Warby Parker)

It might be a stretch to call content marketing a form of advertising, but no one can deny the power of organic content. If you had asked the marketing team at Warby Parker back in 2019 if they had plans to create content around how masks affected people wearing glasses, they probably would’ve looked at you like you were crazy.

But as mask-wearing became commonplace in 2020, people who wore glasses began to notice that masks acted like miniature fog machines, trapping their breath on the inside of their lenses and making it very hard to see. An agile marketing team is willing to adapt to the environment they’re in, and that’s exactly what Warby Parker did. Early on during the pandemic, the D2C eyewear company released this how-to video explaining different ways to prevent glasses from fogging up while wearing a mask. For context, Warby Parker’s YouTube channel has about 7,000 subscribers; in one year, this video has racked up 77,000 views. Compared to their normally high production-value ads and videos, this one looks very plain.

But the content itself is gold. It’s clear that many wearers of eyeglasses have had this specific problem, and the different methods explained clearly and simply in this video were a lifesaver. Underscoring the utility of this piece of content are the 40 comments that all praise the brand for making such a helpful video guide.

Your Strategy: Inspire. Innovate. Keep it Light. Build Goodwill. Be Prepared.

Depending on what sort of market you find yourself in, COVID-19 may have ushered in a new wave of record sales (after an initial nosedive, outdoor recreation brands experienced unforeseen demand spikes as lockdowns spurred people to go camping and hiking) or you might be struggling to find buyers for your product. That should dictate how you approach advertising and position your brand. Because if there’s anything we’ve learned lately, it’s that customers are a lot more discerning than ever, and they’re going to remember how you acted and what you said long after the fog of this pandemic clears.