The Best and Worst Ad Campaigns of 2020

Written By Caroline Fermoselle
April 29, 2020

The best and worst advertising campaigns of 2020 are still rolling in!

When it comes to advertising campaigns, we tend to remember the more extreme ones.

Creating a clever ad campaign is tricky any day – but during a pandemic (don’t get me started on the other numerous crises of 2020) it really takes something extraordinary!

Brands want to latch on to a very public topic (a pademic) is obviously a very popular choice.

But as you’ll see, showing “tact” during a pandemic is a minefield – these coronavirus ad campaigns are a testament to this.

We can’t be too direct. And we can’t use these horrible circumstances purely as a PR-game. There needs to be a balance.

Trying too hard to be funny or being over-the-top emotional can easily just make people mad and boycotting a brand. That’s kind of the opposite effect of what we’re looking for here.

The goal is to take a unique angle, in this case, the current pandemic, while keeping the message on “the brand.”

Tough, right?

These are some of the worst ads of 2020 and some of the more best viral marketing campaigns of 2020 we’ll remember.

Table of Contents

Netflix Advertising Campaigns – #HomeSick – Great Ad Campaign!

Most of us are following the rules:

  • Stay-in
  • Wash your hands
  • Socially distance
  • Don’t touch your face
  • Wear a mask

Fact: It’s estimated that Netflix has grown the number of paying subscribers by 20% since the start of 2020.

You read that right, this viral campaign of 2020 was a student project.

Netflix viral COVID-19 campaign
Netflix viral COVID-19 campaign
Netflix viral COVID-19 campaign
Netflix spoiler campaign write up.

Why the #Homesick 2020 ad campaign is brilliant:

The massive increase in Netflix users shows that Netflix and streaming have become a greater part of our new lockdown lifestyles.

This tongue-in-cheek ad campaign playfully asserts that you might want to think twice before stepping outside.

Otherwise, get ready to see spoilers from your favourite shows!

The Netflix 2020 viral marketing campaign results:

Netflix was impressed by the results, and mentioned it was a pretty good effort for a student project:

Netflix viral COVID-19 campaign tweet
Twitter banter

Budweiser’s #OneTeam 2020 Marketing Campaign

What’s a Netflix binge-fest or a recorded sports event without a cold beer?

Anheuser-Busch InBev debuted a commercial in 2020 honoring health care workers and announced that it would donate $5 million to the American Red Cross in support of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Anheuser-Busch InBev profits took a hit in the first two months of 2020 as the coronavirus impacted nightlife in China, resulting in a $170 million loss in profits.

Budweiser #OneTeam advertising Campaign
Budweiser’s #OneTeam advertising Campaign

More on Budweiser’s 2020 marketing campaign #oneteam

The ad was released by DAVID Miami and aired on TV on March 25th, 2020.

Watch the #OneTeam ad right here.

If you want to read up on this topic, look at this article.

Why this Budweiser 2020 ad campaign is one of the best-branded advertisements we’ve seen!

Combining corporate social responsibility and a tribute to sports, Budweiser gives thanks to the heroes on the front lines in the global pandemic.

If you hadn’t noticed, many of the viral marketing campaigns from 2020 in this article focus heavily on nostalgia marketing.

The visuals and the message are heavily tied to history and the legacy of the brand.

This clever marketing campaign’s results:

Sports lovers feel acknowledged and positive about supporting the brand because the message makes them feel like they’re giving back to the community.

Budweiser #OneTeam advertising Campaign tweets
Pretty positive responses on Twitter

Ford’s 2020 #BuiltToLendAHand Campaign

It’s safe to say no one is rushing to their local car dealership for the sale of the year in the current pandemic.

Major car manufacturers have announced coronavirus car payment plans and programs to mitigate rampant car loan defaults and repossessions.

Just as an example, Ford saw sales plummet 13% in the first quarter after March.

Ford's #BuiltToLendAHand campaign
Watch the commercial here and judge for yourself 

The 2020 Ad Campaign From Ford

Ford’s campaign recalls their significant moments in history as a business that has served the nation over the last century.

The brand knows its place in American culture and recognizes that vehicles are one of the most taxing expenses in people’s lives.

Ford worked in collaboration with Wieden+Kennedy New York.

See more here:

Ford and Covid-19

Another take on the Ford marketing ad campaign of 2020

The public’s response to the Ford ad campaign:

They acknowledged the current economic downturn and proposed solutions that work with the customer instead of carrying on with empty advertising.

Those financing vehicles through Ford Credit are being offered assistance in order to meet payments.

Ford is even manufacturing personal protective equipment and medical respirators at its factories.

The public’s response to the Ford ad campaign:

Ford continues to set the tone as a reliable brand that stands the test of time and resonates with hard-working American people. 

Ford's #BuiltToLendAHand campaign tweet
Ford's #BuiltToLendAHand campaign tweet
Twitter is mostly positive on this one

Guinness Says “Don’t worry we’ll march again” in one of the Best Ad Campaign of 2020

Guinness heavily relies on St. Patrick’s day celebrations and parades, which draw large crowds every year around the world who are spending almost $6 billion at bars, restaurants, and retail shops.

Did anyone else find themselves looking for their beer to toast these guys?

Guinness – Best advertising Campaign of 2020

Guinness partnered up with Philadelphia-based Quaker City Mercantile to put out a poignant spot about canceling celebrations in times of crisis and to acknowledge that things will be a little different this year.

Why Guinness’ 2020 ad campaign is brilliant:

Guinness was one of the first brands to address the virus and did so by encouraging people to be safe and reassuring the customer that they will still be there when normalcy is restored.

They nailed their response by crafting a nostalgic message that conveys a powerful sense of identity, resilience, and class in the face of these events.

The public reacting to Guinness’ recent ad campaign results:

Good vibes on Twitter

TikTok’s #SafeHands 2020 Ad Campaign

SafeHands Hashtag challenge was a hit on tiktok.

TikTok #SafeHands campaign
Good Clean Fun – see what I did there?

The TikTok Hashtags

TikTok launched several viral campaigns that address the pandemic such as the #HayiCorona challenge in South Africa and Tik Tok Vietnam’s collaboration with UNICEF #ONhaVanVui (#StayHomeIsFun) challenge.

See more from the TikTok Hashtag challenge here:

Why TikTok’s marketing strategy is unmatched:

TikTok’s effortless user experience, fun hashtags, and individualistic arena make the app the new favorite social distancing past time.

Users can also explore hashtags related to the pandemic and find easily accessible links to WHO’s information and local health resources.

The results of these viral hashtag marketing campaigns: 

These campaigns led to an enviable level of content engagement. Tik Tok saw a 27% increase in engagement on sponsored posts between February and March.

Even P&G partnered with TikTok to spawn hashtags that have generated 8.7 billion views globally and 1.7 million response videos

TikTok #SafeHands campaign Mariah Carey and ajrbrothers
TikTok #SafeHands campaign Charli with Unicef
These ads are getting a ton of engagement

Related Article: 35 Re-branding Fails That We Can Learn From

rebranding fails
Check out a huge list of Rebranding Fails

McDonald’s #StaySafebyStayingApart: A Failed Ad Campaign

Quick service fast-food chains like McDonald’s have been able to stay open since over 70% of their business operates via drive-thru.

McDonald’s #StaySafebyStayingApart campaign
Watch the full video of McDonald’s ad campaign here.

McDonald’s Worst Ad Campaign


McDonald’s was definitely one of the worst ads of 2020.

To promote social distancing, McDonald’s Brazil redesigned its logo to separate the iconic golden arches. They featured this new logo in a TV spot and across social media accounts.

Following a backlash, the content was replaced with a promotion for the McDonald’s delivery and drive-thru, led by Wieden + Kennedy New York in the US markets. 

See more here about this example of a failed ad campaign of 2020.

Why this Corona marketing strategy of McDonald’ is just bad:

The message that was masked as concern for the public felt disingenuous and exploitative.

The ad highlighted what the brand isn’t doing rather than how they are helping. Altering the brand logo just seems like a contrived move that alienates customers. 

The results of this campaign weren’t very nice either:

McDonald’s #StaySafebyStayingApart campaign tweets
McDonald’s #StaySafebyStayingApart campaign tweet
This twitter response just makes me laugh – go get em!

Norwegian Cruise Lines #FeelFreetoFeelMore: A Terrible 2020 Advertisement

It’s hard to imagine the hell of being trapped in a cramped cruise cabin on a virus filled ship.

Norwegian Cruise Lines #FeelFreetoFeelMore campaign

The Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) – Advertising in bad taste

The campaign was developed with partner agencies BBDO Atlanta and OMD.

This particular ad aired on March 11th and is meant to encourage guests to ‘Free’ themselves with a well-deserved vacation on their terms (hence freestyle cruising).

More examples of poorly timed campaigns


Why this particular Corona marketing strategy is downright tone-deaf:

NCL acted in short term interests by instructing sales agents to tell customers that coronavirus cannot survive in tropical climates.

Conducting business as usual and putting customers in harmful ways is completely reckless and a recipe for a PR disaster.

The NCL website announces that all trips are suspended to May 2020, which is a pipe dream, to say the least.

The results of this bad ad of 2020:

Trouble in paradise. 

Norwegian Cruise Lines #FeelFreetoFeelMore campaign tweets

The travel and hospitality industry during 2020

How should these brands respond to the crisis?

CEO of Kling Marketing, Taylor Ryan, and Carlos Villaro Lassen joined a webinar organized by LuggageHero to talk about how the current pandemic affects the travel and hospitality industry.

The travel and hospitality industry has arguably been hit the hardest during the pandemic.

There is no doubt that the way we travel will change.

Adidas #ChangeIsATeamSport: a bad 2020 ad

Adidas shares were down 6.3% in recent weeks and first-quarter sales tanked by $1.1 billion due to the impact on China sales.

CEO of Adidas, Kaspar Rorsted, sent an email to all Adidas and Reebok retail employees stating that the US stores would remain open in the wake of the coronavirus.

“Closing down is easy, staying open in a healthy environment requires courage, persistence and focus.

For all coronavirus-related decisions we will—as a general principle—follow local regulations as different regions/countries/markets are impacted at a different level at any point in time.

In all regions and countries where legislation allows, we expect the leadership teams to be working from our offices on a daily basis… Where work is conducted from home, we ask for your utmost focus and dedication to do your job as good as possible every day.”

-Adidas CEO Kaspar Rorsted

Adidas #ChangeIsATeamSport campaign
Watch their ad right here.
For more coverage of Adidas during the Covid-19 crisis, look here.

The focus of the campaign is local community growth through inspired positive change and creativity.

Why this is a bad marketing campaign for a brand in 2020:

While the campaign itself isn’t bad, the brand should be focusing on reframing its content to address today’s circumstances. As could be expected, Adidas’ social media posts have become less frequent in the absence of sporting events.

Twitter posts are down to one per week instead of their normal 5-6 weekly posts. The few posts that they have made show no deviation from the normal strategy.

The results of this bad marketing campaign:

The customer may not see how new Adidas products fit into their new lifestyle, especially when other expenses rank higher on their list of priorities.

Customers will also gravitate towards other brands that are protecting employees during this time. 

Adidas #ChangeIsATeamSport campaign replies
I get it.

RyanAir’s Fake Advertisement Mocking the Irish Government

Place in an individual’s life above all else by crafting an honest message, show why your organization is filled with compassionate and caring people.

Help your audience understand how you support the global community.

This is the time to show commitment, creativity, and devotion to the customer while putting procedures in place to assist employees at all levels.

The brand should draw a connection between its purpose and any real-world issues where they can step up to the plate and execute it effectively.

Life as we know it has changed and the way we reach our audience has to reflect this. Brands that fail to engage their customers online by optimizing the use of new platforms will lose relevance as we step into our new normal.

This unprecedented time should be seen as an opportunity to really define brand identity and make constructive and discovery-driven adjustments to operate successfully in the future.

Make better ads in 2021

Less of a “call to action,” and more of a public service announcement for large brands. Get in touch with Klint Marketing and find out how we can build the best ad campaigns of 2021 together!

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1 Comment

  1. Randy Kravetz

    This year feels like forever


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