“Viral Advertising” Takes on Whole New Meaning for Food Marketers During COVID-19

When it comes to the state of creativity in food advertising content, it goes without saying that the coronavirus has had a dramatic impact. Commercial shoots, like all nonessential activities, have been shut down during the crisis. But with so many people staying at home, consumers are spending more time eating and viewing content than ever before. As a result, food marketers are scrambling to develop ways to reach them with new and original content.

Brands Struggle With Tonality

A major stumbling block, aside from the impracticalities of production, has been finding the appropriate tone for communication. To demonstrate awareness and sensitivity, many food brands are shelving their usual campaigns for content that speaks to the current state of affairs. They’re entering the coronavirus conversation tentatively, taking great care not to offend viewers. Messaging themes of resiliency and concern abound in bland attempts to connect with consumers. Many of the ads play like PSAs, with somber music and voice-overs. Trite proclamations like “During these unprecedented times of uncertainty” are often combined with the overused phrase “Even though we’re apart, we’ll get through this together.” The fact that most of the creative content has been assembled with stock footage – usually, a montage of empty city streets and courageous essential workers – makes these efforts from large corporations even more banal. (Check out a spot-on parody of this trend.)

The ultimate sin in coronavirus communication, however, seems to be in attempting almost any form of a sales message that can be seen as trying to take advantage of the situation. Informing people that “We’re still here for all your needs” and “We deliver!” can’t help but smack of self-interest and pretense to audiences craving authentic altruism during these times.

Food Advertising Successes and Fails

The food category is one that doesn’t get put on hold by a mere pandemic. People still have to eat, and now that we’re stuck at home, most of us are doing it even more. Let’s take a look at some of the recent work that has connected with consumers and some that has stumbled. If you’re tired of reading by now, the following video summary is also available.

Postmates – Celebrity Restaurant Shout-Outs

To help keep small business dining establishments from shuttering during the pandemic, food delivery service Postmates has created social media videos featuring celebrities, including Bella Thorne, Tiffany Haddish, Mindy Kaling, Mario Lopez and more, all giving props to their favorite neighborhood eating spots by name. The stars shot their own footage at home for the effort, with each one encouraging people to #OrderLocal during these challenging times. The brand is doing its part by temporarily waiving their membership fees in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Detroit, with more cities possibly to come. Postmates is also helping restaurants with the legalities and logistics of donating excess food to those in need.

Silk Almond Milk – Neighbors Are Still Neighbors

In a creative commentary on human connection during social distancing, plant-based Silk Almond Milk also utilized creative production techniques. This fun and heartwarming TV spot was entirely shot using only the director’s home, son, wife and dog. In the spot, a boy is seen driving a remote-controlled car loaded with a container of Silk through the streets of his neighborhood. When it arrives at a neighbor’s door, a woman wearing rubber gloves replaces the almond milk with its perfect pairing – a plate of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. The commercial took only seven days to produce before its first airing and was produced in accordance with proper social distancing by ensuring there was no contact with anyone outside of a single family. Silk is also providing 1.5 million meals to families in need through the Feeding America network of food banks. No word on whether the meals include cookies or not.

McDonald’s – Socially Distanced Arches

In an attempt at a clever interpretation of social distancing, McDonald’s separated its famed Golden Arches in some of its advertising. Critics clearly weren’t lovin’ it. Many felt that the logo redesign was a highly self-referential and disingenuous stunt designed solely to grab attention and that it diminished the severity of the global pandemic. Others called upon the corporation to provide a real, meaningful response to the crisis by freezing layoffs and increasing wages for their workers at risk. McDonald’s quickly abandoned the logo and stated, “We apologize for any misunderstanding of the intent to remind our customers and communities of the importance of social distancing during these uncertain times.”

Budweiser – ‘Whassup’ Quarantine Check-Ins

With quarantine comes a strong need for social interaction and interpersonal support. So to remind us all to keep checking in with each other, Budweiser has updated its classic 1999 “Whassup” ad, complete with the original cast. They’ve even taken it a step further by creating celebrity versions featuring retired NBA stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and actors Gabrielle Union and Issa Rae, among others, all delivering the famous catchphrase via video chat while making sure their friends are doing okay. In a time when many people are feeling alone and uncertain, the spot’s theme of human connection seems more relevant today than it was 21 years ago. Budweiser is also supporting the effort with donations to the Salvation Army and a nationwide #BudsSupportBuds hotline created for those suffering from anxiety and fear related to COVID-19.

Burger King – Stay Home of the Whopper

The Home of the Whopper has issued a mock call to arms for everyone to do their part in preventing the spread of COVID-19 by simply lying on their sofa. Branding customers “couch po-ta-triots,” their military hero-themed spot encourages folks to remain home and have their food delivered to them. As an incentive, Burger King will waive all delivery fees on orders above $10. Additionally, as a salute to America’s health care workers on the front lines, Burger King is giving away 250,000 Whopper sandwiches to the American Nurses Foundation, while also collecting money for the charity’s Coronavirus Response Fund.

HUN Wine – Bad Timing

In a humorous campaign that pokes fun at current circumstances, HUN Wine has created a campaign that few people will ever see in person. HUN had planned to launch its wine-in-a-can brand at summer music festivals, but cancellations due to the coronavirus made that impossible. So they quickly shifted plans and developed a series of funny, self-aware bus boards with placements undoubtedly purchased at bargain rates. Cheeky headlines including “Look Everybody! We’ve Just Launched a New Wine. Anybody? Anybody? Anybody?” are now adorning empty city streets during lockdown.

It’s the worst possible time ever to advertise outdoors. Or is it?

Food Advertising During Coronavirus Hun Wines

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Kirk Evans VP/Associate Creative Director EvansHardy+Young
Kirk Evans, VP/Assoc Creative Director

Kirk held senior creative positions at McCann-Erickson and Ogilvy in Los Angeles before joining EvansHardy+Young over 20 years ago. He has produced award winning work for multiple EHY Clients including Idaho Potatoes, California Walnuts and several restaurant chains. Previous clients included American Express, Coca-Cola, Columbia Pictures and Post Cereals. Despite being born and bred in New Jersey, Kirk is an enthusiastic surfer.