As the pandemic hit, many brands swiftly shifted from product-centric to purpose-driven messaging to avoid appearing insensitive. A new study from Unruly that measured viewers’ emotional responses to coronavirus ads around the world shows that brands successfully pulled at consumers’ heartstrings during the pandemic.

Unruly measured the emotional reactions of 18,499 global consumers to 52 coronavirus ads, using its emotional testing tool, UnrulyEQ, as well as its EMO Index to account for differences in how people emotionally express themselves worldwide. 

Google Japan’s 60-second “Thank You” spot—a compilation of mobile phone and video call footage of health care workers on the front lines of coronavirus—was ranked the most emotionally engaging coronavirus campaign in the world. 

The “Thank You” campaign, Unruly found, is three times more emotional than the average Japanese ad. The campaign also received the highest score for brand favorability and purchase intent. Additionally, 83 percent of viewers considered Google to be an empowering brand after watching the ad.

An ad from the Singapore government called, “Together, We Can” came in second, followed by Tourism Australia’s “With Love From Aus” in third.

In the US, the most emotionally engaging coronavirus ads include Google’s “Thank You Healthcare Workers” spot, which ranked seven and was 91 percent more emotional than the average US ad. Other strong performers in the US include Oreo, whose “Stay Playful” ad was 70 percent more emotional than the average US ad and Budweiser’s “One Team” campaign, which was 54 percent more emotional than the average US ad. Nike’s “You Can’t Stop Us” ad and Walmart’s “Heroes” ads ranked 18 and 19, respectively. 

Three UK ads made the top ten list, including ITV’s “Apart. But Never Alone” spot, which was 101 percent more emotional than the average UK ad, NHS’s “Stay At Home” ad and Jack Daniels’ “With Love, Jack” ad.

Viewers resonated most with ads that focused on supporting or thanking communities and people affected by COVID, says Alex Maguire, senior insight manager at Unruly.

“Meanwhile, ads that instruct viewers in the ways that they can still interact with the brand and their products during the pandemic tended to not only be less emotionally engaging, but also attracted lower scores for more rational metrics, such as purchase intent and intent to find out more,” says Maguire.

Unruly’s findings come as Ace Metrix released a report on the top-performing ads in Q2, broken down by the most empowering ads and the most “Prodtastic” ads. Ace Metrix’s research reveals that the most effective ads during Q2 focused either on purpose or product.

Frito Lay’s COVID-themed “It’s About People” spot received the highest score for empowering, indicating the ad’s message inspired, encouraged or motivated viewers. 

The second most empowering ad in Q2 was Mercedes-Benz’s coronavirus-related “Be The Best” ad, which resulted in 77 percent of viewers reporting a positive change in brand perception (Ace Metrix notes that the COVID ad norm is 60 percent).

Ace Metrix’s Prodtastic category measured a viewer’s emotional response to an ad primarily driven by a product rather than storytelling. Tide’s 15-second, non-coronavirus-related “Get It Clean” spot topped the Prodtastic list, earning an Ace Score 18 percent above the norm. Additionally, 66 percent of viewers reported they were much more or more likely to buy the new product Tide features in the ad.