You may have seen the new commercial for Extra gum that’s making the rounds. It’s a little preview of what I’ve been dreading for the last fourteen months: the inevitable onslaught of post-COVID-19 commercials.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great piece, but as more and more of us get vaccinated, and business slowly returns to full capacity, we’re going to be inundated with this kind of stuff. And while advertising does need to reflect the current social climate to a certain degree, it loses a lot of strength if it’s completely reactionary.

When COVID-19 became a global pandemic and the business world was turned upside-down, a very strange thing happened; every commercial was exactly the same. If you don’t believe me here’s a clip called ‘Every Covid-19 Commercial is Exactly the Same’.

If you don’t feel like watching the whole thing, I’ll summarize. Each piece starts with somber piano music and sad footage of empty spaces. Next they talk about how long they’ve served you. Then they talk about the troubled/uncertain/unprecedented times. Something about being there for you. Blah blah blah. Music gets slightly less depressing. Reveal of brand logo. You get the picture.

These commercials are very indicative of a lack of brand depth. The brand self-awareness was so superficial, that instead of doing something unique, they panicked and took a more generic and reactionary approach. The result was a series of commercials that, in a strange way, ended up branding the pandemic instead of the business. Sad, airy piano music and “In these unprecedented times” have become assets of the COVID brand. About this time last year we were all pretty sick of the COVID ad clichés.

“In these uncertain times…”
“In these unprecedented times…”
“We’re all in this together.”

And the crazy thing is we still hear this stuff.

It’s been over a year. How much precedent do you need?

To be fair, they actually were unprecedented times. Virtually no business or industry was prepared for a pandemic, and its effects will no doubt be felt for many years. But what was most troubling was how unprepared most businesses were, not so much at a business level, but at a brand level.

Those of us in the audio branding realm bring a slightly different perspective. One of the great advantages of having an audio branding strategy and assets is the ability to flex your brand. Audio branding works very similarly to visual branding, but it’s able to do certain things that visuals cannot. Much of the time, visuals convey information, but sounds convey emotions. Creating an audio brand requires you to dig much deeper to get to the emotional core of your brand. Most brands, when they were forced to dig deeper emotionally, found they didn’t have a big enough shovel.

Most brands, when they were forced to dig deeper emotionally, found they didn’t have a big enough shovel.

State Farm was already there, and had been for decades. They were one of the few brands that got it right during the initial stages of the pandemic. They’ve had the same musical identity for fifty years. If you see or hear “Like a good neighbour…” you know exactly where it’s going. It’s so deep in the public consciousness that all State Farm had to do was take their existing melody, and just tone it down slightly to reflect the current social climate. They were relevant without compromising their brand identity. As a result, it increased positive perception of the brand by 50%, and they were the #2 audio brand in 2020 (Veritonic). Having a well established sound identity is crucial to bringing this level of flexibility to your brand.

So what kind of cloying clichés are awaiting us in late 2021 and beyond?

“Let’s celebrate.”
“Welcome back.”
“We’ve missed you.”
“We made it together.”

These are all nice sentiments, but you’ll have to dig much deeper to express those sentiments and still be distinctive. An audio/visual greeting card with your logo slapped on to the end is not enough.

Now is the time to prepare. Things are about to change again, except this time, we know it’s coming. There’s no excuse for us all having the same clichéd ads. Plan ahead. Don’t reflect culture. Create culture. Accept the fact that everyone is going to have a ‘please go back to buying our stuff’ ad, and think a step ahead. We’re all ready to get out and see each other again. The challenge now is to dig deeper, and find a way to express that sentiment in a way that is unique to you. One way to dig deeper, and avoid branding blind spots, is with a distinct sonic identity. Give us a shout to get the conversation started. The goal for 2022 is not to recover, but to come back stronger than ever.

Photo by Mike Petrucci on Unsplash