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Designing Ad Creative During COVID-19

Posted by Jay Delo on Oct 8, 2020 11:54:07 AM

COVID-19 has created numerous challenges for society. We’re working differently, shopping differently, and communicating differently. 

One question we hearing more in conversations with our clients is this:

“Should we approach ad creative differently given the current state of the world?”

It’s a fair question to ask. 

Many people have had to deal with unimaginable loss as a result of COVID-19, whether that has meant closing a business, losing a job, or saying goodbye to a loved one unexpectedly. 

It’s a sensitive, fragile time for people everywhere.

As we quickly approach the biggest shopping season of the year, you need to feel confident that you have the right ad creative in place. 

Because this year is truly unlike any other, here are some tips we’re recommending you consider as you build and launch creative for Q4:

1. Audit What You Have Running Now

If you haven’t spent time evaluating the messaging and visuals you’re currently using in ads, now is a good time to run a quick audit.

Creative that worked before the pandemic might not be appropriate or compelling to your customers anymore. 

KFC, for example, paused use of the famous slogan they’ve been using in marketing and advertising for over 64 years. Catherine Tan-Gillespie, global chief marketing officer at KFC, explained why in a press release shared in late August 2020:

“We find ourselves in a unique situation—having an iconic slogan that doesn’t quite fit in the current environment. While we are pausing the use of It’s Finger Lickin’ Good, rest assured the food craved by so many people around the world isn’t changing one bit.” 

If you’re running or thinking about running ads during Q4, it’s worth considering revising ads that feature things like:

  • Groups of people not socially distancing
  • People going indoors without masks 
  • People shaking hands or giving high-fives
  • Anything else that conflicts with health and safety recommendations relating to COVID-19.

    by being

By being intentional about what you’re showing and saying in your ads, you can avoid coming across as insensitive or out-of-touch when your ads reach your intended audience. 

2. Create Timely Messaging & Visuals

Depending on the type of products or services you sell, you might be able to create timely ads that address or relate to the current state of the world in some way.

Creating ads like these give you the opportunity to connect and empathize with your audience—to prove to them that you understand their situation and you can relate to what they are going through. 

Here are a few examples of brands that have done this well:

This video ad from Heineken

This video ad from Burger King

This video ad from Apple



To create timely ads for your audience, think about these questions:

  • What do their lives look like now?
  • How are they still using your products?
  • How could they be using your products?
  • What emotions are they feeling?
  • What visual cues will they recognize (masks, socially distancing, doing things from home, etc.)

Instead of running the same ads you always run, take the opportunity to connect with people on a human level with an ad that relates to the experiences people are having as a result of the impact of COVID-19. Just don’t take it too far (more on that below).

3. Use Empathy, But Don’t Force It

There’s a right way and a wrong way to create an ad that references feelings or topics related to COVID-19. It’s a fine line and one you don’t want to cross—consumers don’t like feeling like you’re trying to benefit financially from something that’s deeply affecting people’s lives and wellbeing. 

This is not the time for scare tactics or cheaply done campaigns that try to piggyback on something that’s creating a lot of emotions and hardship for people. 

If your products will legitimately improve the experience people are having in some way, then create an ad centered around empathy and understanding. 

If you can’t make an easy connection and it’s coming across as superficial, phony or making light of the situation, don’t try to force it—it could backfire and your audience will not soon forget a campaign that rubs them the wrong way. 

4. Test Something Different

“Paid media is cheap right now, so take advantage of it.” 

That’s a quote from a recent Appsumo blog article that promotes the importance of spinning up new ad campaigns, targeting new audiences, and launching new experiments right now. 

Why now?

a lot of brands

A lot of brands that run ads on Facebook are seeing lower-than-normal CPMs right now, which is the perfect time to test something new and gather learnings that could help you optimize ads or build better campaigns in the future. 

If you’re seeing lower CPMs on Facebook, it’s time to test. 

Where can you start? Consider testing:

  • New messaging
  • A new landing page
  • New brand graphics
  • A new audience

5. Know the Rules

Not all ads that reference or relate to COVID-19 will be approved by Facebook. In late August of 2020, they made updates to their Controversial Content policy, as described here and below:

“During this unprecedented time, we’ve expanded our Controversial Content policy to include temporarily restricting or prohibiting ads commercially promoting certain medical supplies and other high-demand products related to COVID-19 as they have been associated with exploitative behavior.”

This expanded policy unsurprisingly outlines a lot of rules and restrictions around medical device and PPE ads, but it also applies broadly to any business launching ads, whether those ads relate directly to the sale of medical products or not. In other words, depending on the type of ad you create, Facebook may not approve it if they feel the message is too exploitative or prevents them from being able to protect their users from predatory behavior. 

Before investing too much time in an ad campaign that relates specifically to COVID-19, make sure you are familiar with the restrictions Facebook now has in place. 

Get Help from Experts

Not sure where to get started? Reach out to our team. We produce original, brand friendly, direct response creative for Facebook and Instagram. Our team is also highly skilled in the production of brand videos, explainers, testimonials, stop-motion, animation, you name it…we can create it.

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