Handling the challenges of COVID-19 has been tricky for brands, especially those that rely on humorous ads. During the initial surge of cases, playful brands like Wendy's and Denny's went dark on social media for several weeks. Coors Light pulled its "Working Remotely" ad before it even aired for fear of appearing insensitive about the current situation.
While restrictions lift in some places, the pandemic is far from over. COVID-19 has impacted many people in negative ways, so it can be a sensitive topic. While it's important to provide laughter in trying times, the subject has to be approached respectfully.
Should your brand's creative abandon all attempts at humor for the time being? Or is it a good time to start using humor in your ads? The answer is not going to be the same for each brand. Consider your brand's identity and the intent behind the humor before moving forward with this type of ad.
Potential Problems with Humorous Ads
Even with harmless intentions, sometimes humorous ads can cause more harm than good. In a time when consumers are scared and confused, companies making light of the situation could be seen as insensitive. This is the reason why several brands like KFC and Hershey's dropped humorous ads in the wake of COVID-19.
This doesn't mean that all brands should stop using humorous ads entirely. Denny's posted a set of silly Zoom backgrounds on its Twitter account. Steak-umm released a series of tweets poking fun at widespread misinformation about the coronavirus. Both of these brands' creative campaigns were met with positivity from audiences.
What sets Denny's and Steak-umm apart from other brands is their humorous history. Steak-umm also tweeted that it will "continue preaching from the frozen meat pulpit", reminding its audience of the brand's voice. Since the audience was already familiar with the brand's funny persona, even jokes about serious subjects didn't cause offense.
Humor Can Heal
It's important not to underestimate the therapeutic powers of humor. According to mental health experts, comedy can calm one's nerves and decrease the amount of stress hormones in the body. While low-stress levels keep you in a better mood, they're also important for your physical and mental health
Research has shown that elevated stress levels can lead to a weakened immune system. No one wants to become more vulnerable to illness, especially during a pandemic. A playful ad from a famously humorous brand can give consumers a much-needed sense of comfort and familiarity. However, even the most beloved brands need to be careful with the execution of these ads.
Avoid Crossing the Line
At this time, humorous ads should revolve around common struggles to avoid alienating customers. Frequently washing your hands and staying six feet apart is recommended for everyone to stay healthy during the COVID-19 outbreak. Arby's "#SocialDistancingHat" tweet is respectful, comical, and relatable to all consumers.
However, keep certain boundaries in mind while crafting your brand's advertising campaigns. Some consumers have been affected more severely by COVID-19 than others. If an ad pokes fun at the illness itself, it can offend some consumers and potentially hurt that brand's reputation.
Problems can also arise if a brand tries to create content that doesn't fit its established persona. If a brand's identity is usually more serious, its audience may see these attempts at humor as inappropriate or offensive. A brand without much experience in humorous content may also unintentionally alienate its audiences. For the time being, it may be best to leave pandemic-related jokes to brands that already have an established comedic tone.
Developing Humor for a Serious Brand
Even if your brand's persona is more professional, it's still possible to make customers smile during these challenging times. While COVID-19 is an important subject, you can still create humorous ads that don't mention it. A recent commercial for M&M's, planned well before the pandemic, still managed to connect with consumers despite the health crisis.
Your brand may also spark joy from its audience by poking a little fun at itself. Smirnoff's recent ad demonstrates this perfectly. While it was initially supposed to encourage summer parties, it humorously shows the main actor hanging out from home instead. Even though it emphasizes the appeal of self-isolation, the ad doesn't mention it directly.
Staying Connected in a Difficult Time
When the pandemic started, there was a rush among advertisers to cement a sense of "unity" between them and their customers. Brands known for humor can still incite laughter from their customers while pushing the message of staying connected. Budweiser's most recent ad is an excellent example of this.
This ad provides humor with a familiar catchphrase while remaining respectful about current events. Even in this difficult situation, humor is generally still acceptable in ads. However, it has to fit the brand's persona and focus on the commonalities of its audience.