It’s often said that experience is the best teacher—but that doesn’t mean it has to be your experience. Sometimes the best lessons we can learn come from the successes and failures of others. As we look back on 2020—one of the most turbulent years in memory—we’ve watched many brands try to navigate these challenging times by striking the right tone in their marketing. Some did quite well; others, not so much. Many of these efforts attempted to navigate the “black swan” of the pandemic, as you might expect. Let’s look at some of these marketing winners and duds and see what they did right—or wrong.

 

WINNER—Budweiser: “Wassup Quarantine Version” and #OneTeam

 

Budweiser hit the mark at least twice with two very current, relevant, and relatable campaigns. First, they revived their popular “Wassup” series from the ’90s with some clever audio overdubs with the men “just quarantining, having a Bud.” Second, they launched their “OneTeam” campaign honoring frontline healthcare workers and pledging $5 million to the American Red Cross. Here’s why these campaigns worked:

  • The “Wassup” revival touched a note of nostalgia that played well among millions of Americans who were re-watching their favorite shows and thinking back to better days—all while making quarantining “nerdy-cool.”
  • The #OneTeam campaign specifically addressed the crises and promoted social responsibility while acknowledging the hit the sports world had taken due to the pandemic.

 

DUD—Progressive Insurance: “Off the Mara-Ket”

 

“Flo” has delighted viewers for years as the funny agent/spokesperson for Progressive Insurance—but when she showed up with her annoying counterpart, Mara, in an ad released March 2020, the bit fell flat. Not that it was a poorly done spot—it was just a victim of poor timing. The backdrop was a karaoke bar—which, of course, had no social distancing because it had been filmed pre-virus—and the ad was released just as bars and restaurants across the nation were being forced to close. Progressive’s execs might have done better by shelving the spot and coming up with something a bit more sensitive to the moment.

 

WINNER—Apple: “The Whole Working from Home Thing”

 

Apple struck an excellent balance of humor and relevance when it brought back the cast of its famed Underdogs storyline for a 6-minute video. The team struggles to maintain business as usual while working from home. The bit worked brilliantly because it reflected the challenges millions of workers now face due to the pandemic—in an amusing manner—while also demonstrating how Apple products help them get the job done.

 

DUD—McDonald’s: #StaySafebyStayingApart

 

Where Apple succeeded in positioning itself as a relevant brand during the pandemic, McDonald’s flopped—and evoked some hypocrisy in the process—when McDonald’s Brazil altered its logo in new ads by “separating” the two Golden Arches to convey social distancing. Considering that McDonald’s was already taking PR damage by requiring 70 percent of their workforce to stay active during the pandemic to maintain drive-thru service—at low wages—this campaign shot itself in the foot. Instead of conveying sensitivity and promoting safety, the campaign sent a conflicting message that came across as self-serving.

One lesson we can take away from all these campaigns is how important it for brands to tailor their marketing to changing circumstances in a relevant and sensitive way. At Wicked Bionic, we keep our finger on the pulse of public sentiment and current events to help ensure our clients create brand stories that resonate.

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