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If we could turn back time: 2020 through the lens of pre-pandemic ads

We take a look back at the ads that debuted prior to the pandemic.

It’s fair to say that 2020 didn’t turn out as planned. While it’s hard to imagine a 2020 without Covid-19, the first months of the year saw marketers reflecting the zeitgeist of the new decade. With no end in sight for the pandemic, The Drum looks back and wonders how things could have been.

It's 30 July 2020 and the Olympic Games in Tokyo have begun. The Cannes Lions hangover has eased, top-secret production for Christmas ads are underway and the high street is still, just about, alive. Well, that’s how we pictured things would go when we contemplated the summer, back in January.

As Europe grapples with a second surge of the pandemic, normality still feels a long way off. So, let’s change the narrative and go back to a simpler time, to the brief window when Covid-19 hadn’t yet arrived and the best-laid plans of brands and their agencies still looked forward.

Five months in and it’s fair to say the outbreak has ingrained itself in our behaviours, so much so, that a number of these ads now signify entirely new meanings for the mid-pandemic eye or jar with our newfound need to self-isolate. In a way, they’re a time capsule from a different era.

Nissan: Personal Space by TBWA

Nissan: Personal Space by TBWA

No, this isn’t an ad to encourage safe travel on public transport during the pandemic. In fact, when this came out, the term ’social distancing’ wasn’t part of most people’s vocabularies. It’s actually a light humoured ad for Nissan Finland, teasing the fact that Finns are famously fond of their personal space. All to demonstrate Nissan’s Automatic Distance Control, which regulates safety distance on the road.

Visit Norway: Oslo Moves by Mr.h


’This is Oslo, where all culture moves,’ muses the voiceover at the end of Visit Norway’s bid to entice viewers to the northern capital. Little did it know, that in a short space of time, it would be hoping for the exact opposite. 2020 was supposed to be a significant year for the city of Oslo, with a number of highly anticipated cultural institutes opening their doors for the first time, including the new Munch museum on Oslo’s waterfront.

With openings postponed as a second wave looms over Europe, Oslo’s big year might have to wait until 2021.

Procter & Gamble: When We come Together by Grey

There was a brief moment in 2020 where ’what brand did what’ at the Superbowl ad break was the hottest discussion. P&G’s bid for the spotlight was ’When We Come Together’ starring Modern Family actor Sofía Vergara, among brand icons including the Old Spice easy rider.

On reflection, the tagline was an unfortunate choice of words, given that mass gatherings are pretty much cancelled at the moment.

KFC: Finger Lickin’ Good by Mother London

The first lesson of coronavirus prevention: is don't put your fingers anywhere near your mouth. Therefore, KFC’s ’Finger Lickin’ spot is now utterly unsettling. Putting the famous slogan back at the heart of its creative, the ad saw KFC devourers unashamedly slurping greasy residue from their fingers, seamlessly in tune with Chopin’s Nocturne op. 9 No.2.

In our current circumstances, the ad was deemed too risky for our sanitised world, with 163 people complaining to the Advertising Standards Authority. It is paused for the time being.

Just Eat: ‘Get Stuck In’ Love Island sponsorship by McCann London

After ITV producers decided that one Love Island a year was not enough, February saw the first winter edition of the controversial show. As the official sponsor, JustEat created a series of indents that starred ‘Derek‘, a Just Eat delivery driver, entering the villa.

Thankfully, the winter series finished in time for lockdown, and for those less joyful about the prospect of another series in such close succession, there was a sigh of relief.

Although Covid-19 won't be around forever, we have been left wondering if we will ever be able to see an image of someone licking the KFC off their fingers without shuddering. Here‘s looking forward to 2021.

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