Temporarily silenced by the COVID crisis, brands are finding their voice

It took North American brands a little time to find their equilibrium after being shocked by the speed and magnitude of the COVID pandemic, but the past 10 days or so has seen a growing number directly address the crisis.

In the early days, the instant—and entirely reasonable—reaction was to hit pause on everything. But after giving their agency partners some urgent briefs with very tight timelines, a growing number have released new advertising likely to run in existing media buys.

It’s been barely a week since Facebook released its “We’re never lost if we can find each other” ad by Droga5 (below), but since then it’s almost like a new advertising genre has emerged fully formed—defined by speed-to-market and the constraints of this stay-at-home reality.

The resulting advertising tends to be simple and straightforward, earnest but not maudlin, nodding towards better days and evoking the beauty of the human spirit.

Existing, stock or user-generated content harvested from social channels shows empty stores or roads, people being appropriately physically distant and making the best of a terrible situation. The messaging acknowledges the difficult times and challenges we are facing together, and how the brand is helping out right now or how it will be ready and waiting when this is over.

In Canada, Tim Hortons was one of the first to enter the space with an ad by the Miami agency Gut that talked about how it was helping out Canadian frontline workers. That was followed by a DIY ad by A&W using its familiar pitchman Allen Lulu. This week a handful of others have followed.

But with the just released “Courage” ad for Dove, Unilever and its agency partner Ogilvy followed a simple structure to greater effect— delivering a powerful message that also connects to the brand’s long-term “real beauty” brand pillar.

“Courage” uses portraits of real healthcare workers exhausted by their fight against COVID, their faces bearing visible marks from the protective equipment they have to wear at all times. They represent the extraordinary human endeavour underway at hospitals where people are fighting to save lives. To Dove, this is beautiful.

“With Courage is Beautiful, we wanted to be the voice of Canadians from coast to coast who are all so grateful for the courage these doctors and nurses have shown every day since the outbreak started,” said Ogilvy in a statement. “We want to shine light on the heroic acts of front-line healthcare workers to as many people as we possibly can. And, as this campaign rolls out in additional markets this week, we want the whole world to join us in thanking these incredible front-line healthcare workers.”

Dove Canada is donating $1 million worth of personal care products to frontline workers across Canada, while Unilever is giving $153 million of soap, sanitizer and food and donating another $3 million of essential goods—including food and self-care products—to Canadians in need through charitable organizations, which are experiencing high demand due to economic uncertainty.

See the Dove ad below, followed by some of the other Canadian ad creative quickly put into market in response to the COVID crisis.







Facebook and Droga5

David Brown