May 28th, 2020

Products Reign Supreme Among Non-COVID-19 Ads


Ace Metrix

Over the course of the past ten weeks, we’ve analyzed hundreds upon hundreds of ads addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they only make up 44% of the breaking ads we’ve tested since the start of Q2. What are those other 56% of ads up to?

While some brands altered ads to address the pandemic or scrapped campaigns altogether, those that carried on with advertising as (mostly) usual weren’t penalized. Ace Score norms for all-industry (non-COVID-19) ads are comparable to ads during the same period in 2019, indicating ad effectiveness hasn’t taken a hit as a result of the pandemic:

We analyzed the top performing non-COVID-19 ads in Q2 (so far) to see what is resonating with consumers and if it’s all that different from pre-quarantine days:

Top 10 (Non-COVID-19) Ads in Q2

Brand Ad Title

Ad Length

Air Date

Ace Score

Idaho Potatoes Side Dish




Reynolds Kitchens Three Soups




Shark Powerful Clean




M&M’s Genius




Microban Trusted Brand



669 Home Talk




Duracell Day After Day




Reese’s Sweet Treat




Home Depot Getting It Done




Apple Float




One pattern is clear: consumers are connecting with products. Looking at the Emotional Heat Map for the top 20 non-COVID-19 ads, only four did not score on our Prodtastic metric, which measures viewers’ gut reactions as they relate to products/services. Moreso, Apple’s “Float” was the only ad among the top 10 that didn’t register signal for the metric. It made up for it though, scoring on more specific, product-centric metrics like Cool and Upscale:

Prodtastic is one of fifty-seven metrics from Ace EMO, which measures the strength of emotional connection in advertising. Scores are passively derived from voluntary respondent verbatim comments using Natural Language Processing and machine learning analysis. Prodtastic picks up on any phrases close or related to ones like “love the product,” “well made products,” “popular service” and “product looks stylish,” including synonyms, misspellings, and anomalies.

It’s not unusual for Prodtastic to show up among top performing ads, but this set of non-COVID ads really stands out on the measure. Sometimes the product sells itself. While even top performing COVID-19 ads show some minor Prodtastic signal, it is overshadowed by Heartfelt and Inspiring feelings and reactions to brands’ Corporate Responsibility initiatives:

Top 20 COVID-19 Ads (Q2 only)

Compared to this time last year, Prodtastic came through as the strongest reaction among the top non-COVID-19 ads. Top ads during Q2 last year showed a wider variety of emotions, with signal either greater than or equal to Prodtastic.

Twenty-five percent of non-COVID-19 ads have registered Prodtastic signal in Q2 so far compared to 21% in the first two months of this year (before COVID-19 ads existed). Average Ace Scores for Prodtastic ads now and then were both 12% greater than those without signal proving yet again the pandemic hasn’t upended advertising.

Desire stood out as the strongest component among a majority of the top 20 ads, followed by Information. Additionally, all of the top non-COVID-19 ads significantly beat Breakthrough norms (Attention and Likeability components) indicating that product-forward ads can be entertaining as well as informational.

Note: 12% of all ads have some Prodtastic signal, but less than .1% score into the Rare band of signal. As for Q2 (non-COVID-19) ads, only 1 had Rare Prodtastic signal.

The most Prodtastic spot among the top ten (also with the highest Ace Score) is Idaho Potato’s “Side Dish,” which sought to elevate potatoes from side-status to main entrée. While not everyone was convinced that fries are more than an appetizer, the food close-ups sparked enthusiasm for potatoes. That enthusiasm translated into the highest Desire score of all the non-COVID-19 ads in Q2 as well as 61% of viewers reporting top-2 box purchase intent (vs. 48% norm for 1-year Staples category):

“Oh my God! Now I am hungry and want Idaho potatoes. I loved the ad and loved the actor (farmer) in the ad even more. He sold me the product and had me smiling throughout the commercial.” Female 21-35

“Idaho Potatoes has a high quality product. They assure that people are getting French fries made in America.” Male 36-49

“I thought the ad was very clever & made potatoes a lot more interesting.” Female 50+

Reynolds Kitchens’ collaborated with Tastemade to produce a long-form, digital spot that communicated the easy cleanup that comes with its Slow Cooker Liners. The presentation, imitating those viral recipe tutorials, captivated viewers’ Attention — ranking highest on this component. Despite three recipe demonstrations, the Convenient product benefit stood out most to viewers, with that Ace EMO metric scoring into the Rare band of signal:

“I already use this product and LOVE it! Anything that makes my day easier, especially clean up is a winner.” Female 50+

“I think this was a great ad that shows in detail how the product is used and gives some good recipes. I was fascinated by it and how much easier using a slow cooker would be with this. I really loved it.” Male 36-49

“new kind of cooking bag from Reynolds, which can help to save time on clean up, easy to use for many” Male 21-35

Prodtastic came through in M&M’s “Genius” thanks to the Spokescandies and the launch of the new fudge-brownie variety, but viewers connected most with the brand’s classic humor. A Strong Funny score contributed to the highest Likeability score of all the non-COVID-19 ads. The new flavor was intriguing for 72% of viewers who reported increased purchase intent (vs. 53% norm for the candy & gum category).

So far in Q2, the most effective “normal” (non-COVID-19) ads put the product front and center in an entertaining and desirable manner. These more rational approaches proved to be a great alternative to the empathetic messaging of COVID-19 ads, where 43% of spots are Heartfelt, 37% are Inspiring and only 11% are Prodtastic.


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