Brand Smiles in a Crisis: The Best Ads During COVID-19

Posted on July 16, 2020

Updated on October 23, 2020

2 min read time

The Best Ads During COVID-19 proquo ai

I am a judge for the UK Commercial TV’s monthly advertising awards run by Thinkbox. A team of experts watch the month’s new TV ads and award them on creativity and judged effectiveness. It’s one of my favourite work-tasks!

Advertising has been blasted by COVID-19. On the numbers side, we’re all waiting to see the exact cliff it might have fallen off. Data reporting like Ad Dynamix is so retrospective, but one major global advertising group (in spite of laying down over £10m of media a week which they say was ‘by no means disastrous’) reports global advertising expenditure down by 43% in April, 44% in May and 33% in June.

The ads themselves of course are trying to keep us going, spending. And the TV award process affords a delicious opportunity to see what strategies brands are deploying.

This month, when sitting down to judge I felt a sense of dread fearing a creative vacuum in lockdown. But my fears were groundless – brands are responding to this crisis with creativity, sensitivity and optimism.

Take a look at some of these ads, with my commentary on strategy.




A goodie is this ad from Maltesers. A video call scene that stars a ‘plant that screams I haven’t had sex for years’. A bunch of girls chat while one of them is prepping for a virtual date and it breaks the mould of some other ads in the same campaign that have missed the mark on my credibility-ometer.

This one is funny, empathic and well-cast. The punchline involves the date heroine getting up from her laptop revealing that below the waist she’s, well, less dressed than above it. If this ad doesn’t boost Maltesers’ Empathy and Connection brand drivers I’ll eat more chocolate. (See how I’m hedging my bets?)

Just Eat

Here’s a joyous little number from Just Eat featuring Snoop Dogg, which plays a more theatrical tune on the lockdown but would lift the spirits of the glummest. It gets some good reviews on YouTube like ‘this is the first YouTube ad I haven’t skipped for years’. Just Eat recognises that that’s the challenge; the skip ad button. Using celebrities, particularly in a time of suffering and fear, could be a tricky strategy but this one simply entertains with originality and will be received well for that.


Take a look at this offering from Cadbury’s. It wasn’t the spot I was asked to judge, but this caught my eye in the same campaign of ‘a glass and a half in everyone’. It’s a blatant heartstring-puller but works all the same. At ProQuo AI we measure how people feel about brands because we know that 95% of decisions are made in this System 1, feelings ahead of thoughts, place. This ad will thus work hard.

British Gas

There’s a jolly offering from British Gas. It captures a realistic, though upbeat, picture of people trying to cope in the best ways they can in this weird time and I am a sucker for realism in ads. I can imagine this ad could shift the Performance Driver and even Accessibility.

So, brands are attempting to show empathy and entertain us as we live through this global pandemic. Brands are in this crisis too. Those that do this best will be the winners.

To find out more about the Drivers of brand relationships we've mentioned in this blog, check out our Science page!

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