Quarantine Commercials Have Ideas for Your College Marketing, Too

by Jaclyn Y. Garver
NCMPR Administrative Services Coordinator
Fort Wayne, IN

Something about restrictions and boundaries can spur creativity. I find it true personally, and science even backs it up. According to an Inc.com piece from 2017, psychologists say, “when you have less to work with, you actually begin to see the world differently. With constraints, you dedicate your mental energy to acting more resourcefully. When challenged, you figure out new ways to be better.”

I’ve seen this happen a lot in 2020 in the field of, for example, advertising. Social distancing makes it mighty hard to film a commercial where two people have to be closer than 6 feet. But brands are finding resourceful, handy ways to get across their message.

Oftentimes, they embrace the restrictions of the coronavirus.

Take Arby’s. Early during the quarantine, when it was time for a new commercial, the company opted to not shoot something new. Instead, it just redid the voiceover on an old commercial. And for that pesky sandwich in the shot Arby’s no longer offered? Meh, just blur it out and tell the viewer to ignore it.

Gatorade focused on how antsy players were to get playing, and it filmed athletes at their homes, solo, ready to try something—anything!—new to get playing again. In the “Ready to Play Anything” ads, we see NBA power forward Zion Williamson, Olympic hurdler and sprinter Sydney McLaughlin, MLB right fielder Bryce Harper, NFL running back Todd Gurley and WNBA forward Elena Delle Donne all ready to play baseball … tennis … golf … soccer … basketball … lacrosse … hockey … fencing … Whatever it is, they’re in.

And other times, you don’t even notice what a company is doing, it’s so sneaky.

Take State Farm’s “Real Upgrade” commercial. Man, those three actors are mighty far apart. And no one touches each other. Actor 1 runs a single fingertip along the car’s bumper, but she’s plenty far away by the time Jake from State Farm pops out of the driver’s seat. Actor 2 doesn’t even touch the car—the shtick is that the add-ons are high-tech (read: touchless).

For community college marketers, these examples provide plenty of lessons to incorporate in our next ad campaigns:

  • Reuse something old, like Arby’s. Update a previous voiceover or ad copy, and don’t be afraid to be a little irreverent. If you gotta blur out something old or, I don’t know, place a big ol’ yellow smiley face over an outdated program, your audience will be beyond understanding.
  • Keep your interactions one-on-one, like Gatorade, and don’t shy away from addressing the whole situation’s general crud. There’s a lot of power behind We know this stinks, but we’re here, anyway, especially now. Because when you first came out with this messaging a month in, no one thought we’d still be dealing with the coronavirus’ repercussions in the fall semester and, likely, into 2021. Drive home that message of togetherness—the longer this goes on, the harder it’s becoming to deal.
  • Or, take the State Farm route and be sneaky about it. Space out actors in a way that looks natural. Play with perspective. Photoshop your heart out.

2020’s rules may be forcing creatives into unexpected restrictions, but inspiration can be found when you have to not think outside the box, but throw it in the trash and use a shape with even more edges and crannies.

Jaclyn Y. Garver is the administrative services coordinator at NCMPR and the former communications coordinator at Ivy Tech Community College in Fort Wayne, Indiana.


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