Creative Design During COVID: Crafting Ad Campaigns That Hit the Mark

Creative design is the secret sauce of advertising. It’s often what drives companies and marketers to seek out the assistance of an advertising agency. Designers and copywriters are tasked with creating ad campaigns that capture the attention of consumers and deliver leads and traffic for brands and businesses.

OBI Creative Director Erica Rowe has led a team of talented designers to deliver one smash hit campaign after another. In today’s post, we pick her brain about how design has responded to COVID-19 with creativity that brings people together and connects consumers with brands in meaningful ways.

How has COVID-19 changed design?

Erica: “In March, campaigns focused on empathy and stressed human compassion for one another. When your family’s health and safety is put into question, your world necessarily becomes a little smaller. To be relevant, brands had to connect with audiences in that new, more intimate environment. Doing nothing would have come across as tone-deaf and risked losing mindshare. Consumer goods brands had to find a way to make their messaging center around caring for others and not a selfish materialistic desire for things.

“Overall, brands adapted their creative design very well. But then, as the pandemic wore on, the emotional, ‘we’re in this together’ messaging began to wear thin. Brands had to shift again to bring some humor and levity into the new normal we all found ourselves in. Snickers was one of many brands that did a good job of that with their creative execution.” 

How has design shifted for B2B marketing in the COVID era?

Erica: “Budgets are always important, but in the current economic environment, particularly for service-oriented B2B brands, you have to use design in a way that’s more streamlined. Campaigns are almost entirely digital and motion graphics have become a standard of digital campaigns. Not only are they more budget-friendly, but they’re easy to produce quickly in a remote environment. They’re also more flexible and can accommodate a range of styles. 

“Brands are shifting back to shooting live action, or are at least finding ways to make something look like it was shot in live action. 

“We shot a live action commercial for a client recently and I can honestly say it was an experience unlike any other, but it was still successful. We had to find a way to do makeup, feedback and logistics in light of safety concerns and social distancing. Finding talent was more challenging; so many of the challenges people are facing apply to models and entertainment talent as well. Everyone has kids to take care of in situations where daycare and schools aren’t an option, but in the end, we made it work really well.”

What are some interesting or eye-catching design responses to coronavirus you’ve seen from brands?

Erica: “I think we’ve all heard about the Budweiser One ad and the remarkable spot Dove ran showcasing frontline health care workers. But something that I’ve appreciated that may have flown under the radar a bit was an Ikea spot that ran in Russia

“The ad cleverly displayed a set of manuals for staving off lockdown boredom by turning everyday furniture items like coat racks and couch cushions into forts and caves. 

Credit: Creative Review

“Even if you don’t understand Russian, you can understand these design manuals. Ikea has come up with a smart and strategic way of connecting with consumers in a way that expresses their brand values while also remaining relevant and even generating some goodwill.”

Design plays a big role in our daily lives, but many of us may not even realize it. Even just thinking about signage for social distancing, how can creative design change the way we view even the most mundane or even potentially scary or off-putting things?

Erica: “Good design can be deceptively influential. In that way, design has always been a tool for influence and change. We’ve often heard it said that art imitates life, and that’s because everything in life is, on some level, art. In advertising, so much of design is a reflection of how the artist wants you to see some aspect of life.

“Visual cues drive many of the decisions we make and behaviors we display. People rarely realize they are being directed to feel a certain way about products through the visual design presented to them.

“Take masks, wayfinding graphics, distancing signage and plastic barriers for example. The way these things are designed can make a person feel depressed, isolated, and suspicious or they can communicate hope, inclusion, community, and positivity. Things that serve a function can and should be an extension of your brand. Masks have become politicized and even divisive in some cases. At those times, design can play a hand in trying to make mask wearing feel normal as opposed to something to be feared or resented.

“Signage can be eye-catching and emotive. Whether that emotion be wit or care or seriousness, when public health signage is thoughtfully designed, it can put people at ease.

“As a mother to school-age children, I know it can be scary for a student to walk into a classroom and see dividers everywhere. But I’ve seen some innovative executions where graphics were put on dividers to put children at ease and make them feel like school was still a safe and fun place to learn and grow. That’s the power of visual design. You are influencing how people feel by the colors and visuals you use.”

How is art and design helping people connect with each other (communities) and brands?

Erica: “User interface design comes to mind as one very timely example. Your customers’ online experience with your brand is the only experience they are having right now. It has to be intuitive and functional, beautiful and smart.  

“There’s an art to it. Just because it’s digital doesn’t mean it’s not a piece of art. People probably aren’t coming into stores, so they’re not seeing the signage by your register or the banners as they enter or leave. They’re skipping all of that and trying to find the product they want, quickly. If things aren’t working right in your online environment, it almost doesn’t matter how good your product actually is; your customers will walk away.

“Now and always, I’d encourage brands and businesses to view everything as an opportunity to express their identity and values and to make a positive emotional connection with their target audiences.”

Do you have questions about how to adapt your marketing strategy for 2020? Or, would you like help executing a content strategy for the holiday season? Connect with OBI Creative today