Auto Brands Pump Brakes But Don't Stop Advertising During COVID-19


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The Most Comprehensive Overview Of Car Advertising During The Coronavirus Pandemic

One of the top questions on the minds of many marketers: How do we pivot?  Is it insensitive for companies to advertise right now when so many potential customers have been negatively impacted by the rapid spread of this Coronavirus and the effect it has had on the economy? 

How to advertise in such a sensitive time is a major issue for almost every brand category.  And one of the biggest industries in the United States has stepped up in figuring it out.  In this blog, Hollywood Branded looks at how auto brands have crafted commercials with messaging that continues to promote their brands  while not appearing insensitive to the crisis going on around them. 

Car Companies & Covid-19

A Time Of COVID-19 Crisis

Lots of small businesses have shut their doors. Most large businesses have cut back on spending significantly. Many people have lost loved ones, or their jobs, or even both. With all of the changes happening to the lives of everyone, including a decrease in commuting and travel, people still need their vehicles. There are many essential activities, such as going to the market, where people still need to utilize their cars. Automobile companies are keenly aware of the fact that if they do not stay in front of current and future consumers, they will have a long road ahead to make up the ground they will lose to their competitors.

With the impact of the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, we are living in different times than we ever have before. Many companies have slammed the brakes on any sort of marketing or advertising of their brand. Fears of the unknown are driving their decisions in a negative direction and having an adverse impact on the future of their company. Car companies have found a way to continue to market their business during the Covid-19 pandemic. 



Acura, like most of the car companies acknowledges that these are difficult times filled with new challenges. They promise their customers that they are “here to help” by promising payment extensions, deferrals and late fee waivers those who are facing financial hardships as a result of Covid-19.


In BMW’s commercial, they show an empty road with a variety of curves, stating that “handling curves” is part of BMW’s “DNA.” The narrator then acknowledges that we are all facing an unfamiliar curve. BMW then asks everyone to help to “flatten the curve” by “staying home and staying safe.”

Buick and GMC

Buick and GMC address current and potential future customers with their Covid-19 commercial. They offer free OnStar Assist Services for a limited time to those who already drive their vehicles in order to help them “stay safe” during this time. For those who need a new vehicle but are weighing their financial options, they are zero percent financing for 84 months and deferred monthly payments for 120 days. Like many automobile companies who are address the need to social distance, vehicles can be purchased online and delivered to the buyer’s home.


Cadillac acknowledges the “uncertain times” and promises “we will get through by working together.” They are also extending the General Motors’ OnStar Crisis Assist Services to their current owner and adding free limited time in-vehicle wi-fi data. They follow this by promising that GM Financial Services will offer “flexible payment arrangements.” The commercial finishes by reminding those who need service that Certified Service is still available and can be scheduled online.

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Chevrolet chooses to remind us that “people will always find a way through, even when faced with adversity.” They take the opportunity to remind the consumer that their “certified service experts are here and ready to help” service their vehicle if needed. They promise to help keep drivers on the road as it is “just our way of doing our part.”


Ford, like most car companies, recently pulled back all of its commercial spots and shifted its messaging to how it is addressing the Covid-19 situation. Their commercial begins by reminding us that Ford has been here for over a hundred years. They then point out that Ford has been there for the United States through some of our most difficult times, even shifting to building planes and tanks to help with prior war efforts. Now they are here to help with payment relief for anyone leasing or financing through Ford Credit who has been impacted by Covid-19 – finishing the spot with “Built Ford Proud.”


Honda’s commercial begins by telling us that “Honda has always believed in the power of dreams,” but now adjust this a more important belief: “ the power of being there for those who need it most.” The “Helpful Honda” company closes by reminding us that they way to get through these difficult times is by “caring for each other.”


Hyundai’s commercial promises their consumers to help them through the difficult financial times that are occurring. For customers who have lost their job as a result of Covid-19, they will cover as many as 6 months of payments on vehicles purchased or leased between March 14 to April 30. They are also promising special financing for their other current owners (or leasers) who now find themselves unemployed.


Jeep has brought back once again the Bill Murray Groundhog Day commercial at possibly an even more fitting time than when it ran on during the Superbowl on Groundhog Day earlier this year. The commercial notes that as in “Groundhog Day” all of our days right now are starting to seem exactly the same. Jeep reminds us all to “stay at home” and “stay safe.” – promising that the “trails will be waiting.” The spot finishes with the #stayofftheroad message that all the Chrysler brands (Dodge, Ram, Chrysler, Alfa Romeo and Fiat) are currently using in their Covid-19 advertising.


Lexus proclaims that “you and your needs come first” in their recent commercial about their vehicle service. They proudly state: “service isn't just a department.” The company acknowledges the current changes in the world but promise that they will never change in how they value the importance of their customers. The commercial directs the viewer to their website to set what unique service options may be available.


Lincoln Motor Company promises potential customers in their commercial that it’s the “comfort” and “safety” that comes from being able to purchase a new car from their own home and have it delivered. Lincoln plays off the idea our homes being our “sanctuary” during these troubling times. The company also offers special financing to help.


Mercedes-Benz begins their commercial by reemphasizing their commitment to safety. They follow by thanking those with essential careers – cashiers, firefighters, medics, police officers. They thank “everyone who keeps going.” They finish by thanking the rest of us for “standing still,” reemphasizing the hashtags on their website: #flattenthecurve #stayhome

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Nissan’s commercial says that “for over 80 years it has been with you through thick and thin, and now is no different.” They promise three months with no payments and two months where they will cover payments if needed. Nissan also offers a special low lease price on their latest model of the Sentra.


Toyota brings in their longtime and trusted spokesperson, Jan, who acknowledges the importance of having a “safe” and “reliable” vehicle at all times – especially these extreme ones. She promises that “Toyota is here to help.” Customers who need service are encouraged to schedule service appointments online where they can take advantage of no-contact drop-offs or pick-ups at their local Toyota service center. A new vehicle can also be purchased online and the first payment can be differed for 90 days.


Volkswagen literally hits “home” with one of the more powerful commercials from the automakers. A montage shows towns and cities that are meant to look familiar but appear very different. The streets are empty, and the business signs all say “closed.” The narrator speaks over these images, stating: “although we've never seen our homes quite like this, it's our job to protect them because the best people to fight for our communities are those within them.” Volkswagen’s “community-driven promise” offers “flexible payment options” for current or new VW owners who have lost their jobs. The car company also extends “180 days deferment on your first month's payment” and “0% APR for 72 months” for new buyers.


Audi, listed last (alphabetically out of order here) but not least, has been the most unique and creative in getting their messaging out about Covid-19. They go as far as temporarily adjusting their logo to emphasize social distancing.

If that's enough to convince you to stay at home and you're feeling the effects of cabin fever, Audi suggests that you go for a drive - virtually. Audi takes potential customers on a comfortable and relaxing ride in their A6 in this 4 hour commercial called "The Drive - A Slow TV Journey by Audi."

An Important Decision For Advertisers

Henry Ford once said, “A man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time.”

So many industries have pulled back their advertising as a result of the impact Covid-19 and social distancing is having on our daily lives and the economy. The auto industry as a whole clearly understands that now is not the time to disappear from the eyes of the consumer. They know that if their brand does not stay top of mind, they will lose their market share. They will need to start all over in building brand recognition when life returns to normal.

This is a lesson that all brand marketers should realize.  Brands who have advertised during financial disasters have historically been shown to grow.  These are brands that realize the importance of staying in front of people, and top of mind.  The reality is - if your brand slips, there is another one just waiting to step in, take over market share, and win.

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