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How lockdown TV ads are evolving

Jaime Redgewell looks at how brands have adapted to a nation in lockdown. 

Over the last couple of months it has been fascinating to see just how much our TV ad breaks have evolved and adapted. We’ve watched as brands have had to act quickly and with limited resources to stay appropriate, sympathetic and relevant in the face of a pandemic.

When official lockdown was announced on March 23, supermarkets were quick off the mark with a series of very functional, yet incredibly necessary ‘public service’ type announcements, educating the nation about how they were now expected to shop to keep us all safe. Alongside many others, Sainsbury’s launched their Covid-19 ad. It was a stripped back and simple animation that incorporated just enough charm to maintain the warmth and friendliness that the Sainsbury’s brand is well known for, whilst delivering their new slightly sobering message of ‘working to feed the nation’.  

As other brands began to join in the conversation, messaging started to evolve into a more sentimental format that showcased togetherness and community. In fact, Covid-19 seems to have sparked a new genre of TV ad that follows a very specific formula. Compiled entirely of mobile phone footage and stills, these ads are cut to an emotive soundtrack and document the real-life struggles, as well as unexpected novelties of living in lock-down. Rather than resolving with the traditional sales related call to action, these ads ask us to stand together to support our community and stay safe. 

Take, for example, Uber which asked its customers to ‘stay home for those who can’t’ in its ‘thank you for not riding campaign’ and Facebook reminded us of the power of online communities, by encouraging those who ‘need support, or can offer it’ to come forward.

Two months on and the ads we were watching just a couple of weeks ago are now almost too raw of a reminder of the loved ones we are all missing. Are we ready to welcome a more lighthearted distraction from the heavy-hitting messages we have become so accustomed to?

In its timely return to the TV ad space, the mischievous brand Malteasers has been running a series of fun, well-scripted ads entitled ‘isolation life’. Each one shows four friends on a shared video call spotlighting the strange things we now accept as part of daily life, be it putting on make-up for our Thursday night ‘clap for carers’ or perhaps taking part in one online quiz too many.

While the lighthearted shift in tone of these ads is a welcome distraction for now, many of us are starting to look towards how we can return to something close to normality. But what do we want post-Covid-19 normality to look like?

Durex is a brand challenging this topic head-on with their ‘Let’s not go back to normal’ campaign. A clever and timely evolution of their Valentine’s creative that looks to use this landmark in time as a turning point for our conversations around sexual health.

With the speed at which this landscape continues to shift, brands are having to act fast with limited capability and continue to evolve their ads so they hit the right tone. These adverts mark a very significant point in history, serving as an important record of the nation’s sentiments during lockdown.