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  • Writer's pictureMicah

Social Media Ads in the Age of COVID

Updated: May 20, 2020

Today’s Feature: biotène Oralbalance Gel

A rediculously cartoony gentleman attempts to pour water from an empty cup in to his mouth as his peers judge him maliciously from the background.


We’re months into COVID’s lockdown, so the initial shock has worn off and pretty much all of us are either chafing at the restraints or just plain used to this unfortunate new normal. Everyone's doing their best to adjust and soldier on through the crisis, and that soldiering has usually included some simple trial-and-error approaches to getting work done to ensure processes function reasonably well, and (most importantly) the tone of the work is consistent and appropriate.

Most of all, ads on social media need to come across as genuine and sincere.

Unfortunately, some companies haven’t gotten that memo when it comes to their advertising. In fact, I’m getting the feeling that many of their marketing departments just decided to pivot once, tack a “times are tough” line to the beginning of their usual ad copy, and say “Good enough!” before bouncing off the day’s Zoom call.

Take this most recent ad from GlaxoSmithKline's brand biotène:

Two women presumably suffering horribly from dry mouth, sharing a casual embrace while the word "biotene" floats threateningly over their heads.

What’s Right About It

I know it shouldn’t still be a thing to call out in this ripe old year of 2020, but, still: bravo to the advertiser for featuring a same-sex couple in the ad and not making a big deal about it. This sort of representation is exactly the diversity we still need to see in ads. More inclusion like this, please... eventually it'll become completely normal to see, and that whole Cheerios backlash nonsense will just be a bad memory.

What Doesn’t Quite Work

Just look at those first two lines. The United States currently has the largest share of infected in the world, and, with over 80,000 dead from COVID, our curve isn’t flattening. At this point, our condition goes far beyond the terse and generic “challenging times.” Summing up everything with a glib throwaway line trivializes the challenges everyone has faced, and just makes it sound like the product of a flow chart. Need to make the ad COVID-related? Add "challenging times." Boom. Done. That's lunch.

Also, “Don’t add ‘worrying about dry mouth’ to the list,” is equally problematic. I know ad copy needs to be brief, but another throwaway line like that minimizes the impact the product is supposed to have.

A little sack of mouth-moistening gel might not seem like something that’s terribly crucial to a good chunk of social media’s still predominantly under-40 audience (this ad also ran on Instagram, mind you), so it can be easy to dismiss. But do you know what group tends to use this product a lot?

Cancer patients.

Chemotherapy can cause dry mouth and oral sores, making eating and swallowing excruciating. Any sort of relief from the constant irritation is extremely welcome, so making dry mouth seem like a minor annoyance severely underplays the role this product can play in someone’s life.

Chances are, if you’re in a position to really need this product because of chemotherapy side effects, then you’re already experiencing a “challenging time,” and COVID is making it far more severe and frightening. The ad’s copy would have done well to recognize this. Instead, it delivers a casual line that focuses on the virus, and not the product or client.

What Could Have Worked Better

“Biotène offers relief from painful dry mouth symptoms, providing you or your loved ones comfort in these uncomfortable days. Find out how to claim free biotène Oralbalance Gel samples below for long-lasting, soothing and moisturizing dry mouth symptom relief.”

There. Only 7 more characters than the original copy, and the product is the subject of the copy, not the virus.


Going all-in for a giant ad on Facebook is always a clarion call for any would-be comedian to throw in their two cents with a comment. That’s where community engagement and reputation management plays a crucial role… the average social media consumer can sniff out a copy/paste response to a comment a mile away, and biotène seems to have forgotten that.

An unfortunate company response to a deliberately silly comment on a Facebook ad.

Let's take the side of the social media manager sitting at the keyboard, here. There are a ton or comments to respond to on ads like these, so pasting a boilerplate response makes the job a lot easier. I was that guy for a while, and I’m guilty of having done the same. But discretion is your friend in these situations. Either don’t respond to comments like these, or, if you must, at least have a little fun with it. Otherwise, you'll get called out for blindly hitting Ctrl-V, and it will not look good.

Here's another example of a barely-missed opportunity.

Another unfortunate comment by the company on a Facebook comment.

The response is appropriate for the comment. But no effort was made to try and hide the copy/paste. Add punctuation and get rid of the capitalization from your templates. It takes two seconds, and really shows that attention was paid, even if the answer is a scripted one.


Micah Gutweiler is the owner of Redfish Digital Marketing, and would love to talk with you about your social media strategy. Even your ads.

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