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The age of post-pandemic advertising is upon us—and it’s as confused as you are

Two ads capture the range of emotions: Burger King is discombobulated and cautious, while eos is eager and carefree.

The age of post-pandemic advertising is upon us—and it’s as confused as you are
[Image: Burger King]
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So you’ve been fully vaccinated. Now what? Do you emerge from a year of lockdown and remote work with an enthusiastic leap and a smile? Or is it a cautious toe-dip into the new normal?

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Brands are also struggling with how to feel as COVID-19 finally starts to recede in the United States (although not in the rest of the world). Over the last year, we’ve been whipsawed by companies’ efforts to capture—and shape—the national mood. First it was soft piano music, condolences, and solidarity, then we got ads ranging from fun to defiant to tear-jerking. Just as most of us were trying to figure out how to live our lives during an unprecedented time, companies and their image makers were trying to find appropriate ways to design messages. Now, that challenge continues, as more of the country is vaccinated and people get excited about the economy reopening, even while the pandemic is far from over and many people remain uneasy.

Two different ads released this week depict these two ends of the emotional spectrum.

Burger King’s new spot, “Confusing Times,” looks at the discombobulation that will hit many of us as we emerge from a year of housebound habits and start adapting to spending more time in public around actual people. In the ad, Emma discovers she’s enjoyed dating Mark’s profile—more than she likes dating Mark. Jason grows agitated and flop-sweats over an IRL work conversation that doesn’t allow him to turn off his camera. Trudy wants to return to the office . . . but also wants to work in her pajamas. Each struggles to adapt, until they’re offered the stabilizing comfort of a Whopper.

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Meanwhile, the skincare brand eos has gone in a more optimistic direction with “Obligation Celebration.” Created by agency Mischief @ No Fixed Address, the spot slaps a smile on all the formerly mundane obligations of normal life, whether it’s sitting in traffic, awkward first dates, or getting a drink spilled on you at a crowded bar. “What a wonderful day to do the things that we hate,” sings the cast of young women. “But I”m happy I’m here to do the things I couldn’t do last year.”

This split-screen reality illustrates the wide spectrum of emotions and attitudes that brands are facing as they try to reflect the culture in a way that still persuades us to, you know, buy their stuff. Some will be all about “slutty summer,” with a marketing strategy from the school of Andrew W.K. Others will choose to reflect the confusion and apprehension that comes from such an unprecedented time. Then there’s Bud Light’s, uh, “Summer Stimmy” doling out $10 million in prizes and experiences this summer.

Just as we’ve all been experiencing a range of emotions and responses over the past year, brands are no different. Now, with a light at the end of the tunnel, buckle up—the age of post-pandemic advertising is upon us.

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity.

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