How to Avoid the Sea of Sameness in COVID-19 Advertising | Ethos Marketing


As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, so too do the annoyingly overused and insincere buzz-phrases like “in these unprecedented times,” “now, more than ever,” and “we’re here for you.” If you think people are sick of social distancing, imagine how they feel about a Fortune 500 company telling them “we’re all in this together.” Just (don’t) do it.

How, then, should advertisers navigate this new normal (sorry, couldn’t help ourselves) without ignoring the crisis completely?

The key is to write like you talk. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face (or couldn’t say it with a straight face), don’t write it an email, an advertisement or a social media post. And if you already saw it 27 times in your inbox this morning – probably don’t say that either.

Instead, take a stand. Be willing to say something with substance – offer a solution – or accept responsibility. Brands that get real and put their money/time/effort where their mouths are will rise to the top in this sea of advertising sameness.

Tempted to say something cliché? Here, we’ll dissect some of the most commonly used marketing phrases of COVID-19, why you should avoid them, and provide a better approach to messaging.

“In these unprecedented times”

In your entire life prior to March of 2020, did you ever once use the phrase “unprecedented times?” Right, that’s what we thought. But despite its humble beginnings, this vague and largely inaccurate phrase has almost become the tagline for COVID-19.

The issue with the use of unprecedented is that it is largely over-used. With everyone saying the same thing, consumers are tuning out your message rather than retaining it.

Remember when REI started their anti-shopping “Opt Outside” campaign on the Friday after Thanksgiving? Of course you do – because it was unprecedented. Telling people not to shop on the busiest day of the year was unheard of and literally trailblazing. They were able to cut through the Black Friday noise to command the attention of their audience – then, and into the future, because they did and said something different.

Focus on what makes your brand unique or particularly helpful during the pandemic and promote that message instead of reflecting on the actually quite precedented (see: 1918 pandemic) times that everyone else is already talking about.

“The New Normal”

Those who are waiting for us to achieve a new normal will continue to wait. If anything, COVID-19 has only further underscored the fact that the world is constantly changing. Things don’t always change as fast as they have throughout COVID-19 (from packing for spring break to baking sourdough bread in less than a week), but user behaviors, preferences, and trends are constantly evolving.

Our sage advice – don’t wait for the new normal. Instead of waiting for things to normalize (what is that anyway?), be flexible. Successful brands are those who consistently change and adapt. Today’s consumers are looking for companies that persevere, connect, and ultimately – lead. Time to do a little trailblazing.

“We miss you”

Do you though – or do you miss our business? Just like your high school sweetheart told you – don’t say it if you don’t mean it. Consumers can see right through this type of fluffy sweet talk. Instead, get real with your customers. Tell them how you’ve been holding up, the struggles you’ve faced, and how you’re changing and adapting to meet their needs. “We heard you (and we’ve adapted) is much more meaningful than “we miss you.”

“While you’re stuck in quarantine”

Back in March this phrase became prettttty popular – usually followed by something like “might as well shop for our product!” At best this phrase is uncreative and cliché, at worst, it’s pretty insensitive. The assumption that everyone has time on their hands during quarantine, while true for some, can prove quite triggering for others. Especially those who are forced to put their life on the line to provide for their family (or their country), and those who are juggling multiple full-time jobs in the home (teaching, working, and caretaking).

Instead of insinuating that everyone is sitting on their hands – appeal to them by offering a solution. Whether they’re baking banana bread or teaching math while on a Zoom call, living through a pandemic is difficult. Find the ways your brand can help and offer them up in clear, specific terms.

“We’re all in this together”

Are we, though? I mean yeah, the pandemic is global. But some people are riding it out on their private yacht while others are trying to make banana muffins on a hot plate in a 400-square-foot apartment with 3 roommates. With some of the publicized public battles over mask wearing, it may not feel like a common quest to many of us (on any side of the issue). This phrase is problematic for so many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that when we see or hear it, our mind literally translates it to “blah blah blah whatever.”

On top of its painful overuse, it’s also largely meaningless. Misery may love company, but it doesn’t do much to solve a toilet paper shortage or teach kids who have been out of school for 5 months. Saying “we’re all in this together” is basically shorthand for “it feels like we should say something compassionate here, even though we don’t really empathize with what you’re going through, otherwise we would be offering actual solutions to help you.”

Ok, maybe that’s a little harsh. But it’s time to stop talking about how we’re all in this together, stuck in quarantine, or adapting to the new normal. Forget all that fluffy stuff and focus on what consumers actually want to know – how is your business adapting? How are you helping your employees? How can you help them solve new problems that the pandemic has introduced?

Sticking to the specifics and the unique features of your brand while still acknowledging the new environment we’re all navigating will make your brand stand out. Offering helpful solutions, being kind and compassionate, not cliché, will help your brand to differentiate amidst a sea of advertising sameness.

About Ethos

Ethos is a multiplatform branding agency that develops and executes integrated marketing campaigns across multiple channels for companies inside and outside of Maine.

At Ethos, we believe that the most effective way to set a company’s marketing course is by finding its core truth – its ethos. We know that once we discover and communicate that core truth, we can truly make a difference for each client’s unique marketing and business objectives.

With Ethos, you get more than a marketing agency. You get a long-term partner whose goals are your goals.

Learn more about the Ethos approach and the work we’ve done for our clients. Want to have a conversation about your brand’s core truth? Contact us!

Written By

The ETHOS Team