Advertising As A Strategy

As marketers in the Age of Coronavirus, we all have to walk a fine line between being too opportunistic and too passive to help. Consumers are as split on the topic as those of us charged with reaching them. Approximately 37% of consumers want to see brands advertise as normal; 28% want to see them change; and 35% aren’t sure. This echoes the same things going through all of our clients’ minds every day for the past few weeks.

In Suzanne Vranica’s Wall Street Journal article on the subject, These Ads Were Meant to Be Clever. Now They Are Just Tone-Deaf, she puts it this way:

“Advertisers are grappling with how to sell or promote anything these days without coming across as gauche or opportunistic.”

There have already been winners and losers in this arena. We’ve listed three recent examples of ads we found to be “tone deaf”, exploitative, or overly opportunistic, and three that are helpful, thought-provoking, and emotive.


These advertisers failed to do just about everything on this list of recommendations from Consumer Psychologist Kit Yarrow:

  1. “Be Careful” – better phrased as “Be Kind” or “Be Human”
  2. Don’t make it about yourself
  3. Talk is Cheap — take action
  4. Put employees out front; skip celebrity endorsements
  5. Highlight your heritage and experience

BMW receives backlash over distasteful COVID-19 Tweet

Buying a $150,000 car flattens the curve??? The ultimate driving machine’s marketing machine is NOT ultimate.


Popeyes Gives Away Netflix Password

Gramma may not make it, but at least we have some Fried Chicken and a Netflix password now. Not Gramma’s password…that’s just callous.


McDonalds Removes it’s Corona Virus Message

Coca-Cola was able to pull a similar message off because, well, they’re Coke, AND they’re actually donating real dollars to help.


Portland’s Aviation Gin donates portion of proceeds to out-of-work bartenders

Class act. Fun fact — you can order cocktails-to-go in many states now. Support your local establishments, but please be responsible and don’t spill.


Ford Promises to Lend a Hand

Ford still means “First On Race Day” [editor note (also, a Chevy guy): no, it doesn’t], and their shift in strategy was perfectly timed. “Ford created its new ads in three days — unlike the four to six weeks that the company typically takes to craft ads.”



We couldn’t agree more. The world’s number one brewer committed $5 million and airtime to relief efforts. We may just switch our beer of choice.


With so much on the line for many businesses, critiquing their messaging approach feels a bit gauche in and of itself. Many businesses have not only been forced to the sidelines, they’re days away from closing —or, sadly, already out of business. If you are still able to operate, you have a responsibility to your stakeholders, customers, employees, investors, your family, and yourself to keep the economy moving. Here are a few ideas for how to approach your messaging in the current climate.

  1. Have empathy for people who are hurting.
  2. Show strength and optimism for the good that is ahead.
  3. Focus on highlighting what is essential in your value proposition.
  4. Highlight features and benefits that are suddenly more important than before.
  5. Include an offer that helps customers in ways you were unwilling to before, by either making their lives better
    or donating a portion of their purchase to help those in greatest need.
  6. Remember, one thing that remains constant — you’re still communicating with people.

As Oxford Road Senior Vice President Giles Martin discussed in last week’s Influencer, if you’re one of the lucky ones who can still advertise, then you should. Oxford Road is offering a free creative checkup for marketers who want to make sure their current messaging is appropriate for what’s happening. Fill out this quick form, and upon completion, we’ll provide a diagnostic assessment of your current creative and offer suggestions to optimize.

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