Shaking hands has a publicity problem -- so does walking through crowds, attending a concert and passing out high fives.

Scenes like these are disappearing from advertisements as companies come to grips with public health orders to self isolate and limit the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Ads that were in the works have been shelved and campaigns have to be reworked on a short timeline. Travel and hospitality companies have gone quiet. Meanwhile, with so much of the world on lockdown, it’s not exactly easy to shoot new commercials.

“You have to ask what meaning does your commercial have right now, given that everything has changed in the immediate realities of life,” said Mark Lund, chief executive officer of McCann Worldgroup U.K. “How do you avoid that tone deafness which might offend and alienate people?”

The U.K. advertising regulator said it got 163 complaints about a KFC television ad in March which featured people licking their fingers. Complaints said it was irresponsibly encouraging unsanitary behavior, according to a spokesperson for the Advertising Standards Authority. When the agency contacted the fried-chicken fast food chain, whose longtime slogan is “Finger lickin’ good,” the company had already decided to pull the ads.

Unilever Plc suspended its “Unstoppable” campaign for Domestos, including a video ad that said the toilet cleaner kills germs that are “hiding, breeding, infecting the weak.”

Getting Inventive
In addition to new sensitivities around hygiene, advertisers are having to cope with limited resources to make new commercials as production crews and actors self-isolate.

“World War II comes to advertising land. What can you make out of this empty washing-up-liquid bottle and a bit of sticky-back plastic?” said Emma de la Fosse, chief creative officer of Digitas Inc.’s U.K. business. “It’s about being inventive.”

A cookie brand that Digitas works with had to pivot quickly from a campaign about going out to one about staying in and staying safe, she said. Agencies are getting creative with footage that’s already been shot, and they’re looking at user-generated content and social-media influencers, though the quality can be hit-and-miss, Fosse said.

Lund said that McCann has done an ad for grocery store Aldi using existing footage and resurrecting an animated carrot from its Christmas campaign telling shoppers to “go easy” on the vegetables.

As the lockdown drags on, advertisers will also have to make the decision about whether to make a bigger pivot on campaigns, such as commissioning more animation and using computer-generated imagery that can be produced by teams of graphic designers, art directors and 3D modelers working from home.

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