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Stunning News for COVID Advertisers

In a study of 360 COVID ads measured by ABX across all media, advertising effectiveness scores were some of the highest we’ve seen.  Ads featuring thanks to first-responders, helpful advice regarding resisting the virus, and Gender Equality in all ads rose to the top.  See which top three ads worked, and which bottom three didn’t.

Recently, ABX was asked by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) to summarize how consumers were responding to advertising during this time of  Covid-19, and also how men and women are being presented in these ads.  We are an ANA SEEHER research partner, so we were also eager to see.

We’ve now tested 360 ads across all mediums within the month of March, and have been amazed to see that consumers are not reacting negatively to advertising at all!  In fact, they are welcoming ads and responding more positively to them than before the start of the Coronavirus pandemic.  Here are some highlights, and then we’ll look at examples of approaches that work, and a few that don’t, when addressing an emergency situation.

  • ABX sees that overall consumer response to ads during the month of March improved +5%.
  • More important, ads with  COVID-related content perform better than non-COVID-related ads by a full +175%.  
  • This also applies to Gender Equality Measure™ testing, as well.  GEM™ scores are up 4% for all ads, but are more than 50% better for COVID-related ads.

We’ve also seen that 56% of recent TV creative has COVID-specific content, and much of that content shows “heroes” working to enable most of us to stay home and break the infection cycle.  Once again, we see that positive gender portrayal – higher GEM scores … result in higher Reputation scores and higher Calls-to-Action.  The sheer number of ads above the ABX “Average” Index dwarfs the small number below the average line.  Usually, we see a more even distribution of ads above and below that mid-point.

The ads that follow include ads with some of the highest scores we’ve ever measured. They are in the top 1% of the 200,000 + ads measured by ABX.   They demonstrate three of the most successful strategies we’ve seen employed by advertisers during this time of crisis.

  • Appreciation for first-responders and employees.
  • Guidance on how consumers can  help themselves during this time.
  • Presenting characters in ads  in alignment with GEM principles.


McDonald’s nailed it with,” After Billions and Billions Served …” with one of the highest scoring ads we’ve ever tested, with an ABX Index of 159 (with 100 being Average).  The ad is really quite plain, but the Message is huge – that McDonald’s will be feeding First Responders and Healthcare Workers free meals, scoring 166.  The Reputation score at 385 was, again, one of the highest of the 200,000 ads tested.  First Responders are today’s heroes, and aligning with them does incredible good for your brand.

Amazon Covid

At 156, At Amazon, Challenges are what Motivate Us is Amazon’s super high-scoring ad.  The whole spot focuses on how Amazon employees are taking every precaution to deliver the goods you need.  And they won extra points for high Gender Equality Index scores for both the male and female characters in the ad.  Using Sarah Rhoads, Vice President Amazon Global Air, in the ad was pitch-perfect. But there is still much work to be done among all advertisers to eliminate gender bias.  On average, ads with only female actors have higher GEI™ scores than ads with only male actors.  But when a male and female actor are in the same ad, the male gender scores average 1.5% higher…a clear sign that unconscious bias continues to exist.

Clorox’s “When Fighting Germs, Avoid …” is also in the ABX Index 150’s, a rare score indeed.  This spot works because it is very quick, showing consumers how to properly disinfect their homes with no mention of their products … though they are using the products in the ad.  It does not feel commercial, but rather educational in nature.  Since all consumers in these Covid-19 times want to learn how to do things right to stay well, they responded with a very high Message rating of 176, Reputation of 274 and planned Action of 156.

Now, without being critical, let’s look at three ads that didn’t score so well, to see what we might learn.


Smirnoff’s “Diane BB it’s Diane I Know you Want to Eat Out” is a good example of what not to do to your female actors.  While the overall scores weren’t terrible,  with a decent Message about staying at home and not touching your face during this crisis, the character Gender Equality Measure for both Female and Male are at 83, which is 17 points below norm.  How much higher would Smirnoff scored without taking a silly approach to something serious.  Given that high Female GEM scores add to Reputation and Action, there seems to be an opportunity lost.

As a Category, financial services had the worst advertising during this Covid  time.  Like Charles Schwab’s “Market Volatility: What Investors Should Know” online ad, the Message at 81 is the lowest we’ve seen.  That’s because it appears this is a regular commercial ad with no concern for what people are going through.  Charles Schwab lost in the areas of the ABX Index at 91, low brand awareness, low intentions to Act and a barely average Reputation.  Having said this, personally, I appreciate the ad.  When the Dow lost thousands of points a few weeks ago, those worried about their finances as well as their health may have found the “See More” information useful.  Regardless, don’t go out with purely commercial ads in the middle of a crisis.

Well, you’d have had to see the TV ads to make sense of this Burger King, “Be at Patriot,” print ad.  In the TV spots, Burger King calls for all couch potatoes to become couch-patriots while Burger King donates to the American Nurses Foundation.  Cute idea, but not so much in print.  The wording is too small to read, and most of the scores below show this did nothing for Burger King’s brand awareness, Message retention or planned Action.  The learnings here are to use the right media for your message, and to be careful of which talent you choose for your message (this guy is slightly below average) to portray genuine caring to your audience.

Be a Patriot score

If you have questions about this article or how ABX can help your brand, contact us HERE.