#CompellingCopy: the 2020 COVID copywriting awards

05 Jan 2021 | Culture

#CompellingCopy: the 2020 COVID copywriting awards

By Dominic Oliver

The monthly series in which we take a close look at compelling copy and the secrets to sounding fresh.

“The new normal.” “In these unprecedented times” “Now, more than ever” “We’re all in this together” “We’re here for you.

If those phrases make you want to throw your laptop out of the window and never open an email again, you’re not alone. It’s fair to say COVID has rapidly reshaped comms in 2020, and whilst it’s understandable that all industries wanted to delicately address the situation and foster a sense of community with their audiences, did all the copy have to be so samey?

Fortunately, there are enough bright minds and talented copywriters out there who were primed to address the pandemic with a smidgeon of originality. So, in their honour, here are my 2020 COVID copywriting awards, with nominations reviewed by a rigorous panel (me) and awards delivered by an impartial judge (also me).

Bronze award: Nike – Play for the world

As always, Nike set the bar for emotive vids, and this short video was a masterclass in script copywriting. Inspirational without being fluffy; poetic without being longwinded – all building to an incredibly satisfying payoff that says: ‘we’re all in this together’, without resorting to that tired cliché. Lovely stuff.

Silver award: Netflix – Spoiler Billboards

This was genius by Netflix. Weren’t complying with government guidelines to stay home? Then you ran the risk of having your favourite shows ruined before you had a chance to catch up. With large billboards emblazoned with copy such as “Only two couples say: ‘I do’. And no, Kenny and Kelly aren’t one of them.’ Netflix then powered the point home with the hashtag #youshouldhavestayedhome. A great idea, brilliantly executed, encouraging us all to do what we did best back in March: get back on the sofa and stick on our favourite series.

Gold award: Be Lazy, Save Lives

Government comms came under scrutiny during the pandemic, and there were plenty of new phrases that entered the everyday lexicon: stay home, save lives, stay alert, eat out to save space and wash hands, or something like that. But in my mind, no one nailed it quite like the German government, with their Be Lazy, Save Lives campaign. The script was brilliant, written in the style of an interview conducted for a World War 1 documentary. And the payoff is both powerful and hilarious, showing how it’s possible to use humour and levity in a pandemic, as long as it’s done smartly. (In my opinion, it easily beats the false sincerity of ‘in these unprecedented times, we’re here for you.’).

Honorary mentions

Jennifer Baer- ‘Travel Posters’

I love these ‘travel posters’ by Jennifer Baer, emphasising the power of contrast between copy and design. Glitzy images in the style of 60s tourism boards are paired with rather less glamorous copy such as ‘Visit your one house plant’ and ‘Take a trip to your own bathroom’. In March we could all, agonisingly, relate.

The Staying Inn

This charity works to connect isolated disabled people, so they were ideally primed during lockdowns to provide an inclusive online space for disabled and non-disabled folk alike, hosting pub quizzes and workshops – all supported by a genius name and some brilliant social copy. (“Let’s party like it’s 2020”).

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