Experts have warned that a recession is the worst time for advertisers to go dark, but brands attempting to navigate the new COVID reality find themselves constrained by both the seriousness of the situation and a lack of access to directors, VFX companies, sound companies, etc.
That’s left them with very little leeway when it comes to creating advertising during the COVID era and, consequently, a certain sameness when it comes to their marketing. At least in the first few weeks.
Thankfully, there does seem to be a slight shift towards more distinct marketing. On Thursday, Budweiser posted a version of its classic “Whassup?” spot from 1999 updated for the present day. Created by Anomaly, the ad is running internationally.
Now, instead of “watching the game, having a Bud” the two main characters are “quarantining, having a Bud.” The rest of the ad plays out exactly the same as the original until the end, which has been updated to reflect that one friend is checking in on the other to make sure he’s okay. It closes with kicker: “Be a bud. Check in on a bud.”
In the U.S., meanwhile, Budweiser introduced a similarly funny (gasp) new “Whassup” spot featuring NBA stars Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade and his wife Gabrielle Union along with WNBA star Candace Parker and quarantine/Instagram DJ D-Nice, who trot out the iconic phrase while on Zoom call.
The spot is mostly played for laughs, with lots of use of the signature catchphrase, before switching to a more serious tone at the end: “Staying connected matters more than ever right now,” says the super. “Checking in, that’s whassup.”
But most TV advertising right now reflects the difficult reality of creating work that addresses the pandemic while being made with limited access to creative resources. Not surprisingly, it has led to a lot of similarities.
An Austin, Texas-based digital marketer named Benjamin Sam, who operates a YouTube channel under the name Microsoft Sam, noticed that too. On April 15, he posted a video called “Every Covid-19 Commercial is Exactly the Same.”
Created over the course of a week, Sam’s 3:34 video is a supercut of 60 different ads from both national and regional brands—all addressing, to quote a phrase that pops up repeatedly during the spot, “these unprecedented times.”
Sam says he began spotting the similarities while working from home over the past month or so, usually with the TV playing in the background. “I noticed a couple of memes and Twitter posts poking fun at COVID commercials and their messaging, and it clicked that all of these commercials I’ve been hearing over the past month were similar,” he says. “It wasn’t until I started digging up all the ads that I realized how eerily similar they all were.”
While some of the spots included in Sam’s video were shot prior to the shutdown, most are a direct response to the current situation and, well, it’s hard to miss just how alike they are.
The video calls out several tropes that have quickly become mainstays of COVID-era advertising: their use of sombre piano music, stitched together i-Phone video, invocations of company history, and innumerable references to “extraordinary times,” “now more than ever” and the fact they are “here for you.”
Many of the elements are hallmarks of 2010s advertising, says Sam, whose video had garnered more than 965,000 views and 1,200 comments by Thursday.