By Audra Lesosky

No, not COVID-19 itself, sorry to scare you there. It’s the infection of bad advertising choices that continues to spread. 

Perhaps working from home is affecting the judgement of some marketing managers responsible for approving this stuff, but wow. Or it could be fuelled by something else

What happens when you catch a tiger by the tail?

Your marketing could bite.

At first glance, okay: current and kind of funny. But on second thought – hey… you appropriated an existing meme, and it’s not cool to steal jokes and pass them off as your own, right Elon Musk?  

Third, hold on: who are you targeting? Jesse Cringan commented in McKim’s Zoom chatroom about this: “I don’t want to be either of those guys.” Makes you wonder how H&R Block Canada sees their customers. A small misstep into a tiger trap.  

Put a tiger in your ad and it tanks.

I’m pixelating the company name in the next example because they’re not a national chain who should know better, like H&R Block. Plus, they seem to be a good corporate citizen. #ButDamn  

I need to unpack this, it’s so confusing on many levels. #SoManyQuestions

Lemme get this straight… your online brokers are tigers who are going to… eat my coverage? Or eat me? Or my boots? 

And why don’t you want Carole Baskin to have insurance? Is she a bad risk, what with maybe her having fed her husband to tigers and all? 

But your brokers are the tigers… wait – did your brokers eat Carole Baskin’s husband?! 

Plus that’s clearly motor oil.

Look, it’s great to reference pop culture like Tiger King, and the instinct to share something lighthearted right now is good. And at first I thought, well, maybe their social media person was just having a bit of fun and, unthinkingly, tossed this crap salad together. It happens. But this took some work: stock ? images ? were ? purchased. I know this because I found them. (Motor oil and tiger.) So there was time for a sober second thought during execution.

And if there’s any learning to be gained from Tiger King, it’s: think twice. Or at least once. 

Gear down with the guilt trip Frito-Lay, you sell unhealthy snacks. 

On first viewing, this Frito-Lay spot feels like the same sort of nice-but-becoming-ubiquitous coronavirus messaging we’ve come to expect. Piano track. Stock footage. Supers. But, wow this is a smug, self-congratulatory piece of hubris. 

I mean, good, PepsiCo (Frito-Lay’s parent) is committing millions to combat the impacts of COVID-19. And I have no problem with companies trumpeting their good works because it encourages others to follow suit. Let your light shine, man. 

But let’s be real. Snack food sales are up during this prolonged period of global coronavirus couch surfing, and that means Frito-Lay is profiting. So, thanks, but “brands” don’t need an arrogant lecture from the purveyor of Cheetos. 

Shut up and pass the chips.  

Alright, enough Judgey McJudgeFace. 

Shifting to the positive. 

This piece by Ogilvy Canada for Dove is moving, simple and lovely.

(And this is why everyone needs to Stay The F*ck at Home #nsfw.)

For this next one, Budweiser leverages one of their own iconic campaigns while reflecting on a situation we can all relate to these days, with a surprising pivot to empathy that works very well. 

As a Mac shop, of course McKim likes this piece of Apple pie and agrees with the sentiment that creativity goes on. #FingersCrossed

Plus, in addition to donating to the global COVID-19 response, Apple is doing some pretty innovative things to support its customers, and powering potential tech solutions to the crisis, despite facing devastating supply chain issues. 

Speaking of big brand support — we were delighted to see @KraftPeanutButter supporting a local Winnipeg small business co-owned by McKim alum Trevor Kosowan.  

Trevor says KRAFT Peanut Butter reached out to Jenna Rae Cakes and made the offer out of the blue. 

“As a small business we’re friends with lots of other small businesses, and the struggle everyone is facing right now is heartbreaking. Everyone is operating week to week. So when a trusted national brand like KRAFT reaches out and does something like it this, it really makes us hopeful that we’ll get through this, and that this will bring communities together.”

This is the sort of pivot we’re seeing in marketing now — shifting to supporting our economic survival.

Which brings us to my last point.

Pivoting to non-health related pandemic messaging and ‘normal’ advertising.

While the execution of the Tiger King pieces didn’t quite hit the mark, talking about something other than the health aspect of this epidemic is natural, and increasingly acceptable. At this point, just sharing your broad perspective on the crisis in the same way everyone else is, is not enough.

Your message should also be true to your brand, and ideally have some utility. Give us some news we can use.

We were proud to support our client CBCRA Recycle Everywhere in developing this hopeful ad that is also practical because it reminds people to keep recycling, particularly since everyone is generating a lot more recyclable stuff at home these days. And we did it with existing and stock footage — that we customized — with absolutely no physical contact with the VO talent or Frank Digital, our production partner. #CueThePianoMusic

This pivot will continue. I believe we’re quickly going to see a return to ‘normal’ advertising that doesn’t reference the pandemic even before we get back to whatever normal life becomes after this. Because as businesses adapt to working around the restrictions, and as the restrictions begin to lift, we all need to promote ourselves to stay in business.

A few things to think about as you do:

Know your audience – if you think the pandemic has materially changed how your customers are operating, don’t offer something that doesn’t make sense for them right now. Ask – and adapt to – what they need, not what you need to sell right now.

Check your tone – no one is going to blame you for needing to drum up business, but don’t be tone deaf to the situation. If your brand is usually pragmatic and bold, remember that the pandemic may colour peoples’ response to that tone: be careful you’re not coming across as entirely mercenary.

Do something – you need to take steps to preserve the health of your business. Everyone gets that. And even though people are highly sensitive to tone, even missteps are more forgivable right now. It’s time to shift out of the paralysis that’s been gripping everyone and get back out there. (I mean from a marketing perspective. You still need to #StayHomeStaySafe)

On that note, please join us Friday morning for a free webinar on this subject. McKim’s Peter George will be talking about How COVID-19 Changed the Meaning of Viral Marketing​ from 9:30-10:30 a.m. CST as part of a series co-hosted by the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and the World Trade Centre Winnipeg. Register online today.