The Time We Stayed Home & All Advertising Was The Same

The online marketing and advertising community applauded individual agencies and corporations for their quick response to the pandemic as they adjusted their advertising to messages of solidarity and support. Shortly after schedules started running, similarities emerged and this video was put together. If you haven’t seen it, follow the link and you’ll be witness to a stellar smash up of dozens of major brand’s marketing response to the coronavirus pandemic. The examples are remarkably similar. Each sample video provides a plethora of well-tested words and phrases such as; together, home, family, we’re here for you, trying times, uncertainty, etc.

When I first watched it, I went through all of the emotions I was meant to (and more). For the initial 20 seconds, I was all in. The music set the tone. I was compelled by the beautiful imagery of an idyllic America, met with smiling faces of hard-working people, I felt empowered, I felt grateful, I felt part of something bigger and I even had an inkling of hope. It was the advertising version of the sentiment a 7-year-old feels when their parent tells you that everything is going to be alright. In the first weeks of quarantine, hope had been hard to hang onto and fear even harder to tame. Call me critical, but at about 32 seconds in, the feeling was gone. I progressed into “oh my god, they’re all the same!”, to “jeez, how unoriginal” and even “wow, that was predictable”. These critiques were complimented with an exaggerated eye-roll (I know, not my finest moment).

Much like my own mental journey, all over LinkedIn, comments, and critiques on the lack of originality and need for new creative popped up. An acquaintance remarked that “America is tired of this message”. I wrote an e-mail to a colleague describing the skin-crawling feeling that the phrase “uncertain times” gives me. This prompted an Instagram post pleading for suggestions on a substitute. To me, the sameness made the intent of these ads feel, inauthentic and like any true millennial, I rejected it.

Slow, quarantined, and isolated weeks have passed and finally(!) plans for heading back into the office are emerging. Rumblings of marketing dollars returning are bubbling, and like everything else, my perspective, has changed. Although usually, my soul and psyche are kin to Lewis and Clarke on an expedition for new uncharted territory and adventure, I keep going back to the first 20 seconds of that video and how I felt.

Maybe, the fact that so many commercials are indistinguishable from the next is more positively notable and wonderful than we’re giving credit. Before we rally and rack our creative brains for solutions on how to stand out and brave the post-quarantine world, I do not want to forget about these “dark and uncertain times”. This season when we stayed home, painted our sidewalks in rainbow chalk, decorated our windows with hearts, ordered groceries online, taught our 4th grader's math, became Zoom experts… and all of our advertising was the same.

This has been a reminder to me of the power of what you put out into the world. The messages that people (employees, clients, stakeholders, shareholders, executives & consumers) need to hear now might not give you ROI you can measure next quarter on your bottom line. It probably will not grant your creative team awards for originality. BUT MAYBE if we reconsider how we define ”return on investment” just for a time, and place more value on inspiring hope, we may find these uncertain times worthy of every dollar in the bank and returned to us down the road perhaps, in some ways measurable and some not.

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