Brands Respond to Life After the Pandemic

By Brendan Gill  | 

It’s been a challenging year, but many of us can now see a light at the end of the collective tunnel. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced that global coronavirus cases dropped 14 percent, while the US hit its own happy milestone, reporting that half the adult population had been fully vaccinated as of the last week in May, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). What does life look like after lockdown? How will we readjust to working from offices, making small talk, gathering in public spaces? As we endeavor to find out, brands are exploring the best ways to handle their own post-Covid messaging. Here’s how some of that’s playing out.

Reentering the World
In mid-May, Lyft launched an ad campaign playing on the popular category of YouTube “how to” videos. In the ride-sharing company’s “How to Human” ads, people are placed in humorous or awkward situations as they relearn how to navigate what used to be mundane interactions, like getting to work on time or saying hello to a stranger. Spots ranging from six to 30 seconds will run on TV, social media and out-of-home, but launch times and campaign duration required thoughtful examination. The brand first considered specific safety restrictions in various regions, combined with lingering consumer unease about reemerging from our bubbles. In parts of Canada, for example, the launch will be delayed by several months as vaccinations continue ramping up. Stateside, Lyft and the White House recently struck a separate deal providing free rides to vaccine sites through the Fourth of July holiday.

Heineken’s Dos Equis beer likewise aimed to deliver an important message while keeping a lighthearted tone via their “A Dos of XX” campaign, which debuted on TV and video social channels with the release of a 30-second “Pregame” spot. Capitalizing on the homonym words “dos” and “dose,” the ad shows people preparing for their first night out in months, presumably after getting a dose of their Covid vaccine. The only trouble is, everyone’s forgotten how to shave, put on makeup and leave the house wearing shoes instead of slippers. “By playing on the double entendre of the word ‘dos,’ we inject everyday moments with positivity in our timely campaign,” said Cam Levin, chief creative officer at agency Sid Lee. Two additional spots will touch on other forgotten pleasures, like vacations, all ending with the tagline “Get a Dos.” Pun intended.

Vaccination Inspiration
In similar fashion, Budweiser drummed up awareness for the Covid-19 vaccine by pouring free beer for people who got jabbed. The first 10,000 responders to its “Reunite with Buds” giveaway received a $5 virtual debit card after uploading their vaccination selfie. This isn’t the beer brand’s first foray into public-health promotion. Last January, company execs announced they’d skip the Super Bowl for the first time in 37 years, instead choosing to redirect ad spend into various vaccine education initiatives. A YouTube PSA called “Good Times Are Coming” cemented that message by reminding viewers of the fun we used to have when in close contact with friends, then directing them to GetVaccineAnswers.org for more information.

From suds to sugar, Krispy Kreme kept pace by offering free doughnuts to customers showing a valid vaccination card. Sweet treats will be redeemable at any of 1,400 store locations worldwide until the end of 2021, and the chain further pledged to deliver doughnuts to various vaccination centers in support of healthcare workers. “We all want to get COVID-19 behind us as fast as possible and we want to support everyone doing their part to make the country safe by getting vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available to them,” said CMO Dave Skena.

Striking the Right Tone
Many brands have jumped aboard the joyous post-lockdown bandwagon, aware of the fact that this high will be fleeting. All-natural beauty group Eos released a musical spot called “Obligation Celebration” that’s running on TV, video and social channels, which shows people jubilantly exalting in activities we used to dislike or take for granted, like getting spilled on in a bar or going to the dentist for a cleaning. “All the things we didn’t want to do in a pre-pandemic world suddenly feel like the outing of a lifetime,” said Bianca Guimaraes, executive creative director at Mischief ad agency. “This renewed excitement won’t last very long, I’m sure—so let’s shave our legs for an outing to the USPS while it still feels exotic.” Extra gum tapped into that same element of euphoria with a giggle-inducing two-minute spot called “For When It’s Time” that shows disheveled quarantiners logging off Zoom and emerging zombie-like from homes to meet in a park and start making out while Celine Dion’s ballad “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” blasts in the background. While these brands struck light tones, others must walk a finer line between hilarity and gravity. Some industries were more deeply impacted by the pandemic than others, and “back to normal” still means different things to different, disproportionately affected consumers. Combined with this range of experience is the reality that some pandemic-induced changes are likely here to stay. Marketers currently have a unique opportunity to celebrate life after the pandemic—while remaining vigilant regarding ongoing public-health concerns and mindful of the fact that a collective period of recovery likely lies ahead.

Brendan Gill
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