The pandemic turned some automotive ads into real family affairs.
Automakers have turned to a predictable blueprint over the years when pitching utility vehicles and minivans: bustling children in the back seat and happy parents up front taking them on an adventure.
In normal times, those were all actors only pretending to be related, but filming during a health emergency led advertising agencies to take a different approach.
Rather than putting a set of strangers together, ad teams found it more sensible to use actual families — or couples and roommates — that already had regular exposure to each other.
Hyundai's ad agency, Innocean USA, made sure that the sets were easily reachable by car instead of having to fly. Hyundai found a family of four to use in a campaign for its Santa Fe crossover.
"We just decided it was going to be too complicated with four people in the car to be shooting around them, or to be putting up plexiglass, and it wouldn't be safe," Nicolette Spencer, Innocean USA's senior vice president, head of production, told Automotive News. "At the time, people weren't doing the regular [COVID] testing, so we decided to go with a real family."
It was a hectic year on the marketing front, with agencies and automakers having to adjust to a new reality defined by stunted travel, stringent testing and smaller crews on sets. However, a more efficient ad industry could arise out of this tumultuous period as the pandemic leaves an imprint in the minds of creatives.
American Honda expects the pandemic to bring about lasting change in its planning and production process. Ed Beadle, assistant vice president of the company's automotive marketing division, said the crisis has "made possible an openness to change that has been embraced across our marketing organization."
Even as the automaker took extra caution during film shoots, Beadle said Honda expedited production times and created a more streamlined casting and content review process that it will continue.
"Faced with social distancing challenges, when we filmed our Honda Pilot campaign, we hired a real family for the spot which enabled us to film in more settings than would have been possible with multiple actors coming from different places due to the restrictions related to COVID-19," Beadle said in an email.
While filming for its "Rugged" light-truck campaign during the height of the pandemic last year, Beadle said, Honda made the most of its time by capturing "a multitude of assets that could be leveraged throughout various iterations of the campaign."
As Chevrolet adjusted to the pandemic, the brand still wanted to produce the same kind of content with just as much innovation as before, but in a safe way.
Being in the truck market helped because pickup spots often focus on one man in a vehicle. Chevrolet stuck with that formula in one of the first Silverado spots shot after the pandemic began, said Jennifer Hoffman, Chevy's senior manager for Silverado marketing and advertising.
The brand has tried to maintain safety as it brought in more characters in other Silverado spots, including for a campaign starring singer Breland that was shot in Nashville and featured numerous dancers. Hoffman said Chevy has been keeping ad shoots outdoors as a precaution and sometimes with actors who are a real-life couple.