Like liberty, equality, fraternity; rock, paper, scissors; or a 3Headed Monster, the number three can indicate something special or fun.  But not always.  As we look back on the unimaginable year that was 2020, we can’t help but think of the year as more of the good, the bad and the ugly.  Most brands drastically changed their messaging in 2020 in response to the three huge events that rocked our world: the coronavirus pandemic, a nationwide demand for equality and justice, and likely the most consequential presidential election our country has seen in generations.  Below, we explore how companies reacted to our changing world and review the best advertising campaigns of 2020.

Pandemic Pivot: Advertisers Adapt with New Messages

For the most part, the carefully budgeted and planned marketing campaigns for 2020 flew right out the window in March of this year when COVID-19 became a worldwide pandemic.  As the disease spread and stay-at-home orders were issued, a lot of broadcast advertising stopped altogether as revenue for nonessential businesses dropped like a rock.  Advertisers pulled the plug on spots that were funny and irreverent when conceived but now just tone deaf and inappropriate.  Ads featuring people gathering for parties, eating out of communal bowls, and licking each other’s fingers are a few examples.

Advertisers scrambled to replace ads that were no longer relevant. Striking the right tone was priority one.  Selling a product took a back seat and themes of hope, encouragement, and gratitude (for healthcare and essential business workers) dominated.  Major brands came back to the airwaves with thoughtful ads that brought us comfort, inspired us to be the best version of ourselves, and when the time was right, made us laugh.

Best Advertising Campaigns 2020 – Pandemic

Facebook – We’re never lost if we can find each other

The ad, voiced by British poet Kate Tempest, starts with a somber tone and ends with more hopeful scenes of finding comfort in the socially distant faces of our friends and family.  While there were many commercials that looked and felt very similar to this one with its empty streets, exhausted front-line workers and melancholy piano tune, this one stands out because it promotes Facebook’s platform to offer support to those who need it.

Uber – Thank you for not riding with Uber

The video provides a montage of all the ways people are staying healthy and busy at home, and the inventive ways we can still connect with others outside our households.

Apple – Creativity Goes On

Instead of being a downer, this ad reminds us of the many, many amazingly creative ways people are expressing themselves, even during the pandemic.

Budweiser  – One Team

Budweiser spends big bucks on sports advertising.  With all the major sports leagues shut down, Bud shifted their ad spend to fund Red Cross blood drives in empty stadiums. This clever ad uses team nicknames to pay tribute to the healthcare/essential workers and other resilient folks who have found ways to keep spirits up during the pandemic.

Budweiser – Buds Support Buds

The #Wassup guys illustrate that even if you can’t all be together, you can still have fun with friends, and reinforces the important message that our homies need our support now more than ever.

Bulleit Bourbon – New Drinking Buddies

We all miss our friends, but as this clever spot shows, there are new ones to be found everywhere, even at home.

Heineken – Socialize Responsibly

Heineken gives us a fun montage of all the ways social distancing get-togethers can go wrong, set to the classic song “That’s Life” performed by Dante Marchi.

Apple – The Whole Working-from-Home Thing

Apple offers a long form, frenetic view into the amazing ways their products help people be inventive and productive, no matter when they work or where they are.

Mint Mobile – Voicemails

This genius promotion from Mint Mobile put a real message from actor Ryan Reynolds (who owns the company) into the voicemail of all its customers explaining they get free, unlimited data during the pandemic.  Accompanying spots features recorded clips of voicemail replies from astonished customers.

Brands Respond to Social Injustice

The death of George Floyd in May 2020 sparked protests and unrest across the country. Once again, advertisers had to evaluate the tone of their advertising. Celebrated brands such as Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, and Land-O-Lakes finally let go of long-standing mascots that served as tributes to the old ways of thinking. Many advertisers took to social media and the airwaves to make statements of support for social justice.  But these efforts were not universally well received.  Some viewers saw it as just a superficial money grab rather than an attempt to engage in meaningful conversation. Viewers unsympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement saw these ads as pandering to those who do not value law and order.

Best Ads 2020 – Social Justice & Equality

Some of these ads did resonate with consumers.  Here are some ads that hit the mark, according to the TV and digital video performance rating platform Ace Metrix:

Nike – For Once, Don’t Do It by Weiden & Kennedy

A series of statements beginning with “don’t” lets the viewer know that we have tolerated inequality for long enough and that it’s time to act and be part of the change.

Verizon – Happy Father’s Day

This sweet ad honors all the black fathers who are committed to being the best parent they can be.

Advertisers Promote the Vote

After months of COVID-19 seclusion, social injustice anguish, and economic suffering, the 2020 election season proved to be unlike any other in recent memory.  In 2016, fewer than half of eligible 18 to 29-year olds took part in the presidential election.  An unprecedented number of brands used their voices to encourage citizens to stand up and be counted.

Best Advertising Campaigns 2020 – Vote

Here are some that proved to be the best advertising campaigns of 2020.

Nike – You Can’t Stop Our Voice

This powerful ad featuring video of prominent athletes and the voice of LeBron James delivers the message to the younger demo: your vote matters.

RepresentUs: Naked Ballot

A cavalcade of celebrities appear naked in this ad encouraging those who vote by mail to carefully follow the (ridiculous) instructions required by some states to insert the mail-in ballot into both provided envelopes, lest it be rejected as a “naked” ballot and disqualified.

Absolut: Vote Responsibly by BBH

This simple video shot before the U.S Capitol building in Washington, D. C. reminds us to Vote First, Drink Second

RepresentUs – Dictators by Mischief @ No Fixed Address

 

A series of creepy videos using deep fake technology deliver a chilling message about the urgency of protecting our democracy.

Outlook for 2021

As we look ahead to 2021, will the events of 2020 have a long-term effect on advertising going forward?  In some ways, they most certainly will.  The ways we live and work have changed and brands have adapted to reflect this.  Here are the trends that will most likely affect advertising in 2021.

  • Work from home – Many of us are still working from home. This will likely continue for the foreseeable future and marketers will continue to reflect that both in ad themes and in product offerings.
  • Contactless transactions – Businesses have adapted to offer buy online, pickup in store, curbside pickup and contactless transactions. These services will continue to be critical to success for retail and e-commerce companies and ads will continue to reinforce these services.
  • Increased focus on health & wellness – People are more health conscious in general now and are especially attuned to the need to prevent transmission of disease. Companies will continue to communicate enhanced cleaning procedures, special operating hours and new safety protocols.
  • DIY/Self Improvement – The pandemic has created a new wave of crafters, bakers, home chefs, musicians, artists, homeschoolers, etc. While some will abandon these hobbies when the crisis is over, many have picked up new skills that they will continue.  This change will be reflected in advertising and new business opportunities.
  • Commitment to Social justice – The change this time is real. The Washington Football Team is one more example of how people are thinking differently about justice and equality.  This will be reflected in advertising and hopefully in the way we live our lives.

2020 was an amazing, turbulent year that we will are glad to see in the rear-view mirror.  Our ability to adapt and change as an industry has never been more tested and we came through it with flying colors.