March 22, 2020

Advertising in the Age of Coronavirus Confusion


graffiti on wall of silhouette of man with suitcase and "made in crisis" text with train in foreground
Photo courtesy Robert Metz

How on God’s Green Earth Do You Advertise In the Middle of a Crisis?

(Is the short answer, you don’t?)


With Coronavirus cases skyrocketing, and workplace closures following suit, most humans are ducking and covering (and rightly so). But if business is to continue at some near date in the future, how do we prepare now?  And to push the idea further, is there opportunity in the midst of a crisis to reach audiences during it?  Part of all of us cringes at the thought of opportunism when people are scared and even dying. But, as a business, with bills to pay and people to employ, how do you strike the balance to keep the lights on?  You act quickly to get your message out there.


Here are three examples of local and national brands who realized immediately that their messaging had to change to not appear tone-deaf.


Guinness Ad:



Cadillac (part of a GM initiative) Commercial



Walter E. Smythe TV Spot

Walter E. Smythe has a history of being forward-thinking. Their home-makeovers-as-commercials were/are brilliant examples of early branded entertainment, which continues to gain ground.



I’m amazed that these forward-thinking brands were able to see the writing on the wall, go straight to production, finish postproduction, and get a media buy in place in mere days. From a purely logistic standpoint, this is a Herculean effort.


Lost Opportunity & Relevance

Businesses on the fence on moving forward with video advertising should consider how quickly the bloom will be off the rose with today’s pretending-nothing-is-wrong advertising.  In just a few days the cultural shock will wear off, and the typical shots of people laughing and cavorting in close proximity will have viewers cringing. Your brand risks being tone deaf for NOT addressing people’s current concerns.


How do your pivot with your advertising?  Here are some of the relevant businesses who typically do better in economic downturns, according to new data and this article from David Nilssen for Entrepreneur:

1.Delivery Services (Captain Obvious)

2. Alcohol


door hanger for goPuff delivery services offering alcohol delivery

I’ve never heard of goPuff, but thought this was smart, although DIY, advertising for their alcohol delivery service. Who cares that it’s handwritten? They’re gritty and getting it done.

3. Candy

4. Cosmetics

5. Thrift Stores (when we can re-join society, of course)

6. Home Health Care

7. Veterinary Services

8. Accounting

9. Streaming services

Netflix, Hulu, Quibi, YouTube, HBO Go, Amazon Prime… they’re all having a moment.


The point is this: How can your company address peoples’ current concerns as it relates to your offering? Is your angle to distract and entertain? Or to directly address their concerns and show how you might help?


Scenic Road started our video production and content agency back in 2008, another bad time for advertising and the world in general. We made it through then by telling stories that make people care. We did it then and we can do it now. Reach out today if you need help telling your story.