Every Covid-19 Commercial is Exactly the Same
Commercials are an audiovisual genre that largely escapes the attention of the video essay, which is peculiar since those commercials have been the subject of a lot of scholarly work as well as of popular and journalistic scrutiny. The focus of most video essay makers is firmly on feature films and television series – the Best Practices section and the Dossiers on this website prove as much. This critical supercut by Microsoft Sam is the rare exception.
The coronavirus pandemic initially caused global business to grind to a halt. This resulted in a lot of television and radio commercials being pulled: since no shops were open, it was pointless to advertise. But after the initial shock to the (business) system waned, corporations started advertising again. More than promote their products, their commercials tried to reassure customers. Our airwaves and television screens were filled with what you could call emomercials: commercials that play the emotional card in order to convince customers that their beloved brands had got their backs.
To achieve this, most of those commercials used the same stylistic clichés and standard communication strategies. Downbeat music rising to a hopeful climax. Regular workfolk looking straight at the camera (never wearing a face mask, it should be noted). A voice over referring to the longstanding history of the company, then promising future commitment. The copywriting is littered with the same buzzwords and catchphrases: home, together, we’re here for you…
Microsoft Sam’s supercut reveals these patterns and clichés by grouping them together. (This is not his first supercut that focuses on the aesthetics of commercials: he has previously compiled commercials that use the 1980s vaporwave aesthetic and television ads that are characterized by the robotic Y2K aesthetic of the late 1990s and early 2000s). Microsoft Sam is overtly critical of the way these commercials were produced. In his own words: “Combined with a decade of marketing trends dictated by focus groups and design-by-committee, (this) released a tsunami of derivative, cliche ads all within a week of one another. It’s not a conspiracy – but perhaps a sign that it’s time for something new”.
But still. Even though Microsoft Sam certainly does have a point, one might just as well offer a somewhat more generous and less cynical reading of these commercials. There’s optimism to be found in the fact that corporations, for once, favor community over commerce. There’s comfort to be found in these admittedly generic commercials, in times when some political leaders seem inept or unwilling to offer it. Or maybe it’s just the royalty free music affecting me?