The Groupchat takes on ‘Back to Normal’ ads

The worst part about working from home is not being able to talk shop with your colleagues. 

Fortunately, group chats can help a little with that. 

It’s not the same. Walking into the office and finding someone at a water cooler, in the lunchroom, at their desk watching the latest ad, has a spontaneity that’s difficult to recreate virtually. With a group-chat, whatever gets shared is shared with intent. 

With real life, everything is shared, and it leads to some of our most excellent ideas. 

But, until we go back to the office full-time, group-chats are a good way to work around the distance. 

It’s not the same. Those conversations at the water-cooler are hard to mimic when it’s virtual, and when everyone is busy juggling life and work in the same location, switching to something different takes a conscious effort. 

And then there are those ads that make that effort easy. Those ads that start a conversation spontaneously. 

Those ads that make it feel like we’re all back at the office, working on the same page. 

Talking Shop

Marketing is a constantly expanding, changing, advancing field. We’ve written a little bit about how: there’s always more to say, but to summarise it all – what we see being made today has nothing to do with the way marketing happened a year ago, five years ago, ten. What we’re going to do today will not look anything like the marketing that will happen tomorrow, a year from now, five years from now, ten. 

It makes it hard to predict. 

It makes it fun to talk about, take apart, and analyse. 

Right now, we’re seeing a lot of advertisements talking about ‘going back to normal’. As shops open and countries get ready for the predicted summer boost, retailers are trying their best to coax people back outside, back to their shops, and back to buying.

Most of those ads follow a pattern. They’re understated. Very little reference is actually made to the pandemic, like an apocalyptic movie where half of the beginning is accidentally erased. ‘WELCOME BACK’ is usually the phrase of choice, bolded and centred. 

It gets boring after a while. 

Then EXTRA came out with this: 

From the music to the very specific key beats to the bearded wildmen rejoining society, the EXTRA gum ad took a very staid format and made it vibrant, eclectic, and interesting, all over again. It stood out. 

Naturally, it made its way to the group chat. 

The general consensus: the EXTRA ad works. It stretches the point of believability but it works because the stuff they’re talking about – meeting the people you love, going back to work – is something we’ve all felt at one point or another. 

Whether it’s because you can’t face another Zoom meeting or because you miss the noises of a coffee shop just starting to gear up in the morning, the EXTRA ad feels a lot like coming home. 

Ernesta made an interesting point – its intended effect is to make people laugh, but can it go too far? For Ernesta and for Kim, although they enjoyed the ad, it’s overshadowed by the current situation many of us are facing, and by the understanding that there will never really be a ‘back to normal’. Even when the shops open and the masks come off, COVID-19 made us aware of unsanitary conditions, if nothing else. 

Breaking that habit will take time. 

Thomas Camilleri has this to say about the ad: 

Both adverts immediately harken back to days gone by with tracks that are heavy with nostalgia. It’s all coming back to me now by Celine Dion in the Pepsi ad, unmistakable from the first strains, and Tomorrow, from Annie The Musical, also an instant flashback to our childhoods and a track all about hope and new beginnings.

Out of the two, there’s a clear winner for me, being a sucker for a terrific story and a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief. The sweet spot between leaving reality behind and taking a story into the realm of the ridiculous is a sweet one indeed and one where the Extra ad is happily floating around in.

The Pepsi one is also a good ad because it reminds us of what a disgusting species we are and makes me want to start the lockdown all over again. Actually, maybe that’s what doesn’t make it a good ad, but it’s certainly memorable – for the wrong reasons, perhaps? Yes, we’re gross and *wretches* eat chicken wings before sticking our fingers full of the detritus of poultried saliva into bowling balls, but do we really need to remember this? Can’t we rejoice at how the pandemic has introduced everyone to hand sanitizer and social distancing?

Will these ads make me reach for the brands next time I need chewing gum (maybe) or a cola drink (never)? Possibly not, but with brands of this size, it’s not all about direct conversions anymore and in terms of shareability and memorability, Extra is the clear winner.

*Hits the Enter key*

*Looks at keyboard*

*Sanitises hands*


And then there’s Pepsi: 

Thematically, both of the ads are similar. They’re both about mess. They’re both about going back to a different normal. 

They’re both chaotic. 

But the Pepsi ad didn’t ring as true for most of us as the EXTRA gum ad. Despite using the same keynotes, the same concept, a lot of it fell flat. 

There were the outliers who liked it – Ernesta, who found the EXTRA gum ad too exuberant and silly, liked Pepsi’s quieter take on ‘going back to normal’. Luke and Thomas disagreed: while the Pepsi ad had the same message, the overdone flair of the Extra ad gave it a charm that is missing in the Pepsi ad. In Luke’s own words, it just reminds me of how unsanitary people can be. 

Kim said it with a little more detail. 

Ultimately, most ads are a case of personal taste. Even across an agency where we try to be impartial, the reality is that some of us will like an ad more because it speaks to us in a way that other ads don’t.

What’s interesting is the journey we take along the way. Seeing how other people react.

It helps us see what other people see. 

It makes us better at what we do.

And it’s really fun.

What more do you need?

Insights from our CEO

Industry insider knowledge and business leadership insights from Rik's mind to your inbox.

You can also connect with him on LinkedIn or schedule a call.

Thanks for subscribing.