Digital Marketing

COVID-19 Marketing Gone Wrong: Top 5 Cringe-Inducing Campaigns in 2020

July 2020
Melissa Sorini

Spare a thought for Tourism Australia, who launched a lavish (and eye-wincingly expensive) 2 ½ minute ad campaign on March 12, 2020 - otherwise known as “The Day Before COVID-19 Lockdown”. Within 24 hours we were all stuck at home.

Tourism Australia had no idea that life as we knew it was about to disappear: their ad recalls a nostalgic time where we could cross state borders without incurring $26,000 fines, have long, boozy vineyard lunches with 15 of our best non-socially-distanced mates or go out for a cheeky kebab without being by cautioned by the police.

Aaaah, memories…

One thing that *hasn’t* changed in 2020, is that brands are always looking to jump on the bandwagon of current events. And so we present five cringeworthy brand attempts to cash in on the COVID-19 pandemic - plus one that we can’t help but kind of like. 

Colgate - #Smilestrong

This hashtag-ready Colgate campaign aims straight for the feels, tugging at the heart strings with a cheesy inspirational quote before spamming our screens with 60 seconds of cheesy smiles - brought to you by Zoom, leading sponsor of the COVID-19 crisis. All the Facetime cliches are there - pets, kids, cuddles, babies, grandparents and bad lighting. Curiously absent? Stressed-out parents sculling massive glasses of wine after another hard day of homeschooling collapses into chaos.

Telstra network - Stay close

Telstra jumps into the COVID-19 fray with this vignette of a mother-daughter phone call. Anonymous user “Dean B” on the Youtube comment thread for this advertisement speaks for us all when he says “I don’t know why, but I hate this ad”. It might have something to do with the condescending portrayal of the elderly lady that positions her as a punchline who can’t use a phone properly. It might also be because Telstra blatantly brags about being the “best” at the end of this ad, which we all know is utter nonsense. 

Commonwealth Bank - We can. Together

I hate it when brands ruin my favourite songs in cynical attempts to make me like their ads. Because it works. I watched this way too many times. This CBA advert uses a divine cover version of the Powderfinger song “These Days” to soundtrack their montage of COVID-19 cliches - takeaway coffee, home hair cuts, people dressing up to take their bins out. Memo to CBA: you made like $4.5 billion profit last quarter. Almost 2 million Australians are out of work. Stop trying to pretend we’re all in the same boat here. 

ALDI - Precedented Prices   

“Unprecedented” is the word on everyone’s lips in 2020, and frankly we’re all sick of hearing it every time we watch the news, listen to the radio or try to make sense of another public health announcement from Donald Trump. Being the arbiters of “Good Different”, ALDI decided to run with the concept of “precedented” on their COVID-19 commercial. It kicks off with a gag about toilet paper shortages before assuring us that ALDI is a beacon of normality in these unprecedented times. Except we all saw people punching on over toilet paper in ALDI stores too, just like they did everywhere else. #awkward

HBF - Stay Well Australia

This blatantly formulaic HBF advertisement contains all the same elements we’ve already talked about here - the twee imagery, an annoyingly appealing soundtrack (damn I love this song!) and inspirational quotes reassuring us that “everything is gonna be alright” even though we can’t touch each other, visit each other, turn on the television without seeing yet another cliche-ridden COVID-19 brand advert or even find a damn packet of toilet paper anywhere within three suburbs (thanks for reminding us again!)

VitaPet - Thank You

I wanted to hate this ad, but I couldn’t because it’s just so wholesome. Over half a million viewers on YouTube agree with me. Watch this if you love cats and dogs. And, if you don’t… what the heck is wrong with you?

That ends our round-up of cringe-inducing coronavirus marketing campaigns.

Hang in there, Australia - the good news is that once scientists find a vaccine we’ll be free of terrible COVID-19 brand ads forever. 

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