The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted advertising — and ahem, life — as we know it in the first quarter of 2020. While what works now for ads is very different from what worked even a month ago, we still wanted to acknowledge some of the top ads from the past quarter. After all, a year where average Super Bowl Ace Scores rebounded to an all-time (eleven year) high shouldn’t be brushed under the rug.
First, we’re paying tribute to the COVID-19 ads that are leading the charge in terms of positive Cultural Perception. While all of these ads are far from what brands had planned, viewers are appreciating these efforts and rewarding them with high scores. On average, ads addressing the pandemic are outperforming all-industry score norms across all of our component measures — most notably Relevance, Likeability and Information. On top of that, positive purchase intent for COVID-19 ads is 4% greater than that of our recent all-industry norm.
Of the 100+ COVID-19 ads we tested in March, 73% scored on the Empower measure from our Cultural Perception scoring system, which quantifies the risks (Exploit) and rewards (Empower) of communicating values and social objectives in these modern times. Typically, only 12.5% of all ads across industries achieve any signal so this already puts Empowering COVID-19 ads in a highly impactful place.
The Empower score measures positive cultural impact, indicating when an ad’s message inspires, encourages or motivates viewers. The top spots recognized below scored higher than 84.2% of ads with Empower signal. More impressively, Verizon’s “Pay It Forward” broke into the Extreme band of signal — something reserved for the top 0.61% of Empowering ads.
|1||Verizon||Pay It Forward||0:30||Extreme|
|4||Miller Lite||Tip Jar||0:15||Rare|
|5||Thank You Healthcare Workers||1:00||Rare|
|6||NFL||Stay Home Stay Strong||2:00||Rare|
|8||Walmart||Heroes in Vests||0:30||Strong|
|9||USAA Corp||Proud Service||0:30||Strong|
|10||PGA Tour||Great Cause||0:30||Strong|
The most Empowering were driven by virtue of their Corporate Responsibility messaging. For half of the top ten that included a philanthropy angle, with viewers connecting most with Verizon’s weekly livestreams to benefit small businesses and PGA Tour’s recent redirection of food from a cancelled event to a local food bank (as measured by the Philanthropy metric from Ace EMO).
For Honda’s and NFL’s Empowering COVID-19 ads, the messages encouraged viewers to take care of themselves and others. The NFL’s PSA-style “Stay Home Stay Strong” ranks as the second most Relevant of all the pandemic ads with its inside look at how players are coping with shelter-in-place orders.
Several of the most Empowering focused on showing support for people risking their lives on the front lines (Google, Walmart, Budweiser) and/or those negatively impacted by the pandemic (Verizon, Miller Lite). Google’s touching tribute to healthcare workers tied as the highest scoring ad overall (Ace Score) last quarter and also landed among the top Breakthrough ads.
Despite the changes brought on from COVID-19, we didn’t want exceptional creative from the past quarter to go unnoticed. With that said, we’re recognizing the top ads from Q1 based on Breakthrough performance, which combines Attention and Likeability components. With over 2,000 ads tested last quarter, the following achieved Breakthrough levels recorded by less than 1% of all ads.
Important to note, COVID-19 ads are breaking through with Attention and Likeability levels on par with the top Super Bowl ads — five of the top ten were Super Bowl all-stars, while four were recent COVID-19 related ads.
|1||Doritos||The Cool Ranch*||1:00||806||798|
|4||Thank You Healthcare Workers**||1:00||782||806|
|8||Sam’s Club||Thank You, All**||1:00||757||795|
|10||Freshpet||Home, With Freshpet**||0:30||765||776|
The top three Breakthrough ads leveraged celebrity star power, pop culture and humor to entertain audiences during Super Bowl 54. In addition to those elements, each ad successfully wove the brand and/or product into the storytelling. Despite each ad’s unique approach, viewers emotionally connected with all three in a similar manner. Evident in the emotional profiles below, each scored on the following metrics: Funny, Narrative, Ingenious, Memorable, Arresting, Love It and Adtastic.
Thanks to strong Breakthrough and emotional impact as well as high scores on other components, all three of these ads beat Super Bowl positive purchase intent norms as well as Doritos’ and Hyundai’s respective category norms.
Hyundai’s Super Bowl LIV spot, “Smaht Pahk,” and Google’s “Thank You Healthcare Workers” tied for the highest Ace Score last quarter: 738. Airing on the last day of Q1, Google’s spot was created in response to the pandemic and as its title suggests, thanked healthcare workers who are fighting the virus on the frontlines. It ranked as the most Heartwarming and most Inspiring COVID-19 ad of the quarter.
“The Message” — named the Single Best Thing about “Thank You Healthcare Workers” by 54% of respondents (vs. 33% for COVID-19 advertising norm) — was particularly relevant with a reminder to all why it’s so important to stay home right now. Upon watching, 61% reported positive visit intent for Google, which included a specific link at the end for more COVID-19 information and resources.
Like Google, Budweiser’s “One Team” ranked among Q1’s most empowering COVID-19 ads and top Breakthrough spots. Its poetic narration has sports undertones, but as it plays over images from the fight against the virus it takes on a more powerful meaning. Among Gen Pop viewers, it ranks as the highest scoring ad of all time from a beer brand, beating the next top performer — another most empowering COVID-19 spot, Miller Lite’s “Tip Jar” — by 44 points.
Sam’s Club’s “Thank You, All” had similar intent as Google’s COVID-19 spot, except it was more brand-specific expressing gratitude toward its hard-working employees. This spot excelled thanks to strong Breakthrough (particularly Likeability) and Relevance. Information was the only component that hovered around COVID-19 advertising norms, but this didn’t harm positive purchase intent, which came in at 60% (vs. 48% norm):
Freshpet’s “Home, With Freshpet” was the first (and only) pet care brand to address the pandemic with a message that put a positive spin on the shelter-in-place orders throughout the country. Despite the relevant and heartwarming message, the scenes of pets and their owners were even more favorable among viewers — a slight majority of whom chose the Visual Scenes over the Message as the top Single Best Thing about the ad.
Congrats to each of the brands with ads that ranked among Q1’s most empowering COVID-19 creative and top Breakthrough ads! It might be awhile before we see any high production, celebrity-filled spots like those from the Super Bowl. However, given the way brands are handling the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers are finding comfort in the new advertising norm.