Environics provides an early look at how Canadians are responding to ads during the pandemic

Just released research from Environics and Ogilvy provides a snapshot of how Canadian consumers are reacting to advertising during the pandemic.

Conducted between April 3-5, the survey of 756 consumers in English Canada revealed that most are receptive to advertising, but there are some distinct preferences about what kinds of companies should be advertising and what they should be saying.

“Coming out of this crisis there will be winners and losers,” said Ogilvy Canada CEO John Killam in the report. “The brands that win will be the ones who responded with compassion and helped support people with positive actions.”

Here are some of the highlights and key takeaways from the report.

Most noticed

Asked what one memorable ad they’d seen during the previous week, most respondents (26%) indicated food advertising including food products, fast food and delivery, with A&W (which released a new COVID-related ad this week) in particular driving that awareness.

  • Automotive was just behind (21%), with many respondents mentioning Subaru’s spot about thanking essential workers.
  • Key takeaway: “Respondents demonstrated higher recall of ads from brands that had specifically pivoted and made mention of the pandemic than those that failed to do so,” wrote the authors.

Who should be careful

Just 12% of respondents said their most memorable ad made them feel anxious, sad or angry—most often these were PSAs, but car commercials also elicited these feelings. “Luxury brand and big-ticket product advertising (like auto) wasn’t received well by consumers” states the report.

  • Economic anxiety is having a big effect on what people want to hear from brands at this time. Marketers in big-ticket categories should be focused on how their companies have helped employees or society. “[T]here is fertile ground for advertising those efforts for brand-building advertising.”
  • Key takeaway: “Given Canada’s relatively solid handling of the COVID-19 crisis, consumers want to feel positive momentum and forward motion. Advertisements with negative messaging were more likely to be ignored by consumers.”

Is advertising appropriate?

One third of respondents said that advertising is fine across most categories except travel and tourism. However, one in six said it was inappropriate across most categories with the exception of food, grocery and drug store.

  • Most consumers want advertising to focus on COVID-related messaging like general well-being and mental health, products and services directly relevant to COVID, “stay home” messaging, and the importance of hand washing.
  • But 48% also said they also want to see ads not directly relevant to COVID.
  • Key Takeaway: Those who are ready for ads not directly relevant to COVID are people who “adapt well to the complexities of modern life,” said the authors. They “receive intense gratification through the purchase of consumer goods.”

That’s annoying

About 14% of respondents expressed frustration with ads that mention the pandemic, though an equal number said they are frustrated by ads that do NOT mention the crisis.

  • 50% said “they have not been frustrated by any advertising so far.”
  • Key takeaway: Ads by brands deemed non-essential, or ads considered not sensitive to the crisis—namely travel, automotive, luxury goods and credit cards—were not viewed positively,

Driving trial

Asked what would prompt them to try a new product or service at this time, respondents said discounts (59%) and value (43%). Just 3% said endorsement by a social influencer.

  • Men were more likely to say discounts: 63% compared to 54% for women.
  • Key Takeaway: “Things to think about when conveying your product’s added features: convenience, sanitization and effort to maintain physical distance.”


David Brown