(Apologies to Gabriel García Márquez, but it was right there.)

At McKim, we’re always sharing great creative with each other as inspiration for the work we do. And we mercilessly make fun of bad advertising and rage about idiotic communications choices…

Right now our group Zoom chat is filled with examples of what marketers are doing during this crisis. Good and bad. Let’s start with the bad.

No… just, no.

I probably don’t need to break down what’s problematic here, but I will take the time to do so because I already watched “Tiger King.”

In a CTV story, a Swoop spokesperson said the company didn’t intend to offend. Honestly, I’m not all that affronted by their use of humour, or by the fact they leveraged current events. It’s the careless brand befouling that offends me. Because if your logo kind of looks like toilet paper, and you already have a bit of a dungheap service reputation, maybe don’t reference the most defining example of crappy human behaviour this crisis has seen. #scatscat #sorrynotsorry

But seriously. Is there a right way to lean in to the realities of the pandemic we’re all dealing with? Can we still sell stuff right now?


Restaurants are promoting delivery and safety measures. Some are even shifting to innovative business models like delivering groceries that they’re sourcing through their suppliers. Burger King brilliantly posted how you can make a Whopper at home. Retailers are reminding people they can still shop online. Sports brands are celebrating fun and goofy physical activity at home. All good. 

We really like this Jack Daniels piece, even though it is, essentially, selling booze. 

Alright, full disclosure, there may be some JD in a couple of desk drawers at McKim which might influence how we feel about this ad. But the point is, done with sensitivity most marketers can certainly say something genuine about what’s going on, along with a quiet sell. 

Here’s the best example of what can, and should, be done right now

Subaru, an automative brand that promotes the safety of its vehicles, chose to repurpose its ad buy to thank front line workers who are keeping us safe during the pandemic. Beautifully aligned with its brand, lovely copy, simply done with stock imagery. 

Even though Subaru’s ad was produced inexpensively, they put some money behind the creative and the media. And while it makes a point about not selling anything, it buys huge brand affinity.  

Here are a few tips if you’re considering how to communicate right now

Please don’t send out any more generic boilerplate COVID-19 emails to your entire database. Your stakeholders and customers have already heard from every brand with whom they inadvertently shared their contact information. Assess your message’s value to your audiences, and whether or not this crisis will influence their reception of it. 

Please tell it like it is. This isn’t an “unprecedented situation,” this is a global health pandemic. These aren’t “interesting times,” it’s a deadly virus.  We’re not dealing with “uncertainty,” we’re all pretty sure it’s a crisis. By the way, use of “uncertain times” is my only criticism of the Subaru ad. Softening the magnitude of this with linguistic gymnastics won’t help keep people inside where they need to be. #rantover

You don’t need to create coronavirus-related communication. But if it makes sense for you to be advertising right now please don’t stop. Agencies, their production partners and media outlets frankly need the work to keep their doors open. Instead of hitting pause on your marketing: innovate. The best brands are doing that. Can’t shoot that TV campaign you planned due to physical distancing? Maybe it would work as an animated spot. Hesitant to do outdoor while fewer people are commuting? People are sure plugged in to digital and TV right now. And they’re listening to radio at home.

It’s literally our job to find creative solutions – and that extends beyond the creative itself. 

For example, with the right idea and clever customizing, you can make good ads using carefully selected stock photography and video, repurposing existing material, and reimagining campaigns. We’re currently doing all these things for clients while ensuring physical distancing for everyone involved. 

It can be done. We’d love to do it for you. And we promise no toilet paper ideas.


Shout out to some other local marketers who are doing a good job keeping in touch with their constituencies and keeping their brands relevant and helpful:

The new buylocal.ly site that provides up-to-date listings of businesses still operating.

Tourism Winnipeg’s Peg City Grub hub for creating a subpage listing for restaurants that are still delivering.

Travel Manitoba’s Instagram feed is pure food for the soul – while gently reminding people to do the right thing so we can get out and enjoy the province we love sooner!

And nicely done Fairmont Winnipeg