Advertising Trends & Tactics During a Pandemic

Display Ads
January 1, 2021

Key Takeaways

Content & Messaging Tactic — Leverage Testimonials and Social Proof: Calm heavily leverages testimonials to communicate trustworthiness and effectiveness, including current customer reviews as part of their ad copy as well as any mentions and awards from various publications (such as “2017 iPhone App of the Year”). Headspace uses a similar tactic, using expert testimonials in their advertising and copy like “the most science-backed meditation app in the world” to add to the legitimacy of their app’s end benefit claims.

Content & Messaging Tactic — Using Video Clips as “Proof of Concept”: Both Calm and Headspace use short video clips in their social media ads to demonstrate to consumers how the app “looks and sounds”. These video clips are generally under 15 seconds long and include features from audio clips (that help aid in meditation, etc.) to relevant call to actions (i.e. “breathe  for 15 seconds”), giving consumers an idea of what to expect when they use the app.

Content & Messaging Tactic — Focus on Crafting Advertising Campaigns around Mental and Physical Wellness: Major studies from various publications conclude that the prevalence of anxiety and depression has greatly increased in 2020 due to COVID-19, be it from the disease itself or from various lockdown measures. In UK alone, 57% of study participants reported signed of anxiety while 64% reported signs of depression.

As such, many brands have led their advertising campaigns around wellness keywords such as:

  • Stress Relief: CBDistillery, CbdMD, and Stressballs marketed their products to consumers looking to relief stress or to find calm in a “world of chaos” while 
  • Anxiety / Mindfulness: Calm’s advertising including messaging that targeted consumers who struggled with anxiety while Headspace focused on increasing happiness and mindfulness

Sleep/Insomnia: Nature’s Bounty, along with various other brands, pushed out ads focused on targeting ailments around sleep and insomnia

Content & Messaging Tactic — Directly Address the Pandemic Situation in Advertising Campaigns: In general, when it comes to talking about COVID-19 in advertising campaigns, 75% of UK consumers believe that brands should directly address the issue in their advertisements, especially if the brand is involved in some way with the pandemic. Consumers also believe that brands can help in spreading prevention messaging in their advertisements.

eCommerce Tactic — Create a Seamless Online Shopping Experience: Unsurprisingly, purchase behaviour of CBD products this year has greatly shifted from an in-person experience at distilleries to an online experience. Many brands have come to realize the importance of having a proper digital ecosystem, especially a seamless online shopping experience so consumers can get the products they need without leaving their homes. Many brands, such as oHHo Botanicals, have led their advertising around promo codes and “shop now” CTAs rather than “learn more” CTAs to get consumers directly into a shopping experience.

Content & Messaging Tactic — Craft Ads with Humour in Mind: In a study done on UK consumers, a vast majority of respondents (58%) say they preferred ads that were able to make them laugh, suggesting that humour-based ads are more effective in capturing consumer attention. Notably, humour-based ads were more preferred than even sale-based ads, as only 38% of respondents led with “ads with special offers” as their preferred messaging tactic.

As news of a new strain of COVID-19 spreading at alarming rates, the “new normal” (lockdowns) has led to increased levels of anxiety and stress for many people.

Cannabis - Covid-19 - New Normal
Study Published | Kaiser Family Foundation Poll | Study Into Mental Health Impact of COVID-19 in the UK

Quarantine depression entered our vocabulary in March 2020 and remains a part of it.

Search volume of search term “quarantine depression” on Google:

Search Volume - Quarantine Depression

Many experiencing insomnia turned to the internet for tips on how to sleep.

Search volume of search terms related to “insomnia”, “how to sleep”, and “sleep tips” on Google:

Cannabis - Search Volume - Insomnia - How to Sleep - Sleep Tips

Searches for “meditation” and meditation apps also increased in March and April.

Search volume of search terms related to “meditation” and “meditation apps” on Google:

Cannabis - Search Volume - Meditation - Meditation Apps

Weekly average app downloads in 2020 for “mindfulness” apps (such as Calm, Headspace, etc.) increased +25% in March compared to January and February.

App Downloads - Top English-Language Mental Wellness Apps in April 2020

At the same time, meditation apps aggressively increased their spending to attract users. Calm increased their digital ad spend by +796% (2020 vs. 2019) in addition to a $15.6M spend on TV ads* between March and August.

Meditation Apps - Ad Spend -  2020 vs. 2019
Source: Washington Post - Meditation apps see surge in group relaxation

Calm’s advertising content strategy focused on targeting those who struggle to fall asleep. Their ad mix included the following:

Calm - Advertising Content Strategy
Ad#1 | Ad#2 | Ad#3 | Ad#4 | Ad#5

Calm - Soothing Visuals
Ad#1 | Ad#2 | Ad#3 | Ad#4 | Ad#5

Calm - Discounts
Ad#1 | Ad#2 | Ad#3 | Ad#4 | Ad#5

Calm - Celebrities
Ad#1 | Ad#2 | Ad#3 | Ad#4

Meanwhile, Headspace communicated their app’s end benefit of “feeling happier”, “less sad”, and “get sleepy” through bright ad visuals.

Headspace - Bright Visual Ads
Ad#1 | Ad#2 | Ad#3 | Ad#4 | Ad#5

They also pushed out a promotion that let healthcare workers, K-12 teachers, and those who lost their job due to COVID-19 use the app for free.

Headspace - Free Offer Ads
Ad#1 | Ad#2 | Ad#3

As for the CBD industry, 2020 marked the year where consumer purchasing of CBD products shifted heavily from in-person (via dispensaries) to online shopping.

CBD - How Cannabis Brands Are Preparing for a Christmas Green Rush
Source: How Cannabis Brands Are Preparing for a Christmas Green Rush

Consumer research conducted by Brightfield Group reports that anxiety is the #1 ailment of CBD users, with depression and insomnia at #3 and #4 respectively.

CBD - Brightfield Group - Consumer Research

Cannabis brands are focusing on marketing their products around keywords like “resetting” and “refocusing”, with a heavy emphasis on mental and physical wellness.

Cannabis Brands - Product Marketing - Keywords - Resetting - Refocusing
Source: How Cannabis Brands Are Preparing for a Christmas Green Rush

CbdMD led their advertising messaging around “stress relief” and capturing audiences’ attention by asking leading questions and referring to 2020 as a year “we all need a little extra self-care”.

CbdMD - Stress Relief
A Newfound Outlook on Everyday Health & Wellness | Gifting Made Easy

CBDistillery referenced the same idea of “world of chaos” and focused their advertising around finding “calm” and “relaxation”.

CBDistillery - World of Chaos - Finding Calm and Relaxation

At the beginning of lockdown (March–June), they prioritized “shop now” CTA and leveraged promo codes to drive traffic to their eCommerce platform.

CBDistillery - Shop Now CTA

OHHo Botanicals is another example of CBD brand that double downed on promo codes to redirect people from shopping at distilleries to shopping online.

OHHo Botanicals - Promo Codes

Antidepressant medication is another category that seized the opportunity to leverage increased anxiety levels.

Antidepressant Medication
Kantar: Understand People, Inspire Growth

StressBalls entered the “anxiety” market with product-focused ads and very clear “stress less” message and “turn the stressed life into your best life” CTA.

StressBalls - Anxiety - Stress Less - Turn the stressed life into your best life
Ad#1 | Ad#2 | Ad#3 | Ad#4

Meanwhile, Nature’s Bounty allocated $20.3K of their ad budget towards a series of uplifting messages around employee appreciation in April.

Nature's Bounty Ads
Ad#1 | Ad#2 | Ad#3 | Ad#4 | Ad#5

The company also released seasonal ads targeting different ailments, such as sleep supplements in the spring and immune system boosters in the winter.

Nature's Bounty - Seasonal Ads - Sleep Insomnia - Stress Relief - Immune System
Ad#1 | Ad#2 | Ad#3 | Ad#4

As a whole, stress relaxants, meditation apps and CBD product brands have sharpened their messaging to grasp consumer attention during the pandemic, using keywords such as:

Seach Keywords - Stress Relaxants - Meditation Apps - CBD Product Brands

When it comes to addressing COVID-19 in ad messaging, a FreeWheel study concluded that 75% of UK consumers believe brands should address the pandemic situation in their advertising campaigns.

FreeWheel Study - COVID-19
Source: FreeWheel Study Finds 75% of UK Consumers Think Brands Should Address COVID-19 in Ads

Humour-based ads are the most popular with UK consumers, with 58% of respondents saying they want to see ads that make them laugh.

UK Respondents - Humour-Based Ads
Source: FreeWheel Study Finds 75% of UK Consumers Think Brands Should Address COVID-19 in Ads

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