COVID-19 and How It's Changed Denver TV Ads for the Worse

Photo by Michael Roberts
A scene from a Fix-It 24/7 commercial touting its pandemic safety procedures.
The COVID-19 outbreak has changed Denver from top to bottom — and television commercials aired on local stations are no exception. A look at TV spots aired by five major Denver channels during hour-long news broadcasts on the morning of April 14 shows the majority of businesses still able to afford advertising pivoting to virus-related messages, with many of the national offerings, in particular, boasting funereal soundtracks and a mingling of commerce and supposed sincerity that is utterly obnoxious.

Most of the local commercials with a COVID-19 theme are simpler and more utilitarian — but they can be problematic, too. Arguably the most off-putting is one arguing that buying a car during a time of widespread unemployment and unprecedented economic turmoil is patriotic.

On April 14, we recorded the 6 a.m. news programs on Channel 2, CBS4, Denver7, 9News and Fox31. Over those five hours, well over 100 commercials were aired, but many of them were repeats. Fewer than twenty advertisers dominated these programming blocks, many of them Colorado staples. There's something reassuring about seeing American Furniture Warehouse's Jake Jabs or Dealin' Doug Moreland still out there pitching despite the pandemic. Jabs, for his part, stressed that AFW can still be accessed online.

Still, the most ubiquitous presence was former Denver Broncos quarterback and Hall of Fame endorser Peyton Manning. He starred in American Financing commercials, eight of which were shown during the period, and none of which have been updated to reflect the coronavirus pandemic. That's not necessarily a bad thing; they offered rare humor during a stretch when far too many ads tried to be uplifting...and usually failed.

Among the biggest local advertisers were legal outfits such as Bachus & Schanker, the Sawaya Law Firm, Burg Simpson, Ramos Law, Anderson Hemmat and, especially, Frank Azar & Associates, whose namesake, Frank Azar, was hot on Manning's heels, with five ads aired during the five hours. Most of the legal commercials had not been freshened up for the age of COVID-19, but there were exceptions, including a Bachus & Schanker spot that promoted full services without any face-to-face meetings.

Also pushing hard was Beau Jo's Colorado Style Pizza, whose five commercials promoted a 30 percent discount on to-go orders. This was among the only local eateries with any presence during the broadcasts — an indication of how much financial pressure restaurants are under right now.

Other local advertisers took the low-budget approach to making their previous commercials more relevant under the current circumstances, including Plumbline Services, which supplemented its usual ads with a visual crawl promoting online ordering. But others have created all-new offerings, including Lifetime Windows and Siding, which has twinned a discount deal with a pledge to donate to Food Bank of the Rockies with each job, and area Big O Tires outlets, which promise to maintain hygiene measures recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control.

More aggressive are commercials for Hail Professional Services SA — the focus is on steam cleaning and how it kills bacteria and germs inside vehicles — and Fix-It 24/7, which finds longtime consumer advocate Tom Martino doing the hard sell over visuals like the one at the top of this story, in which a worker is completely outfitted in hazmat gear. According to Martino, parts shortages once the economy gets going again are likely, so consumers would be much better served by getting work done now, even if it means a stranger padding around inside their house.

But Martino's approach is subtle compared to the one put forward by the Medved family of auto dealerships. Four times over the course of the morning, the company paid for commercials in which a stentorian announcer encouraged auto purchases using the tag line, "Help your country. Help yourself."

And help the folks at Medved, too.

Of the national advertisers, about a quarter used pre-virus messaging, most of which looked extremely out of touch with the times. Among the worst was a commercial aired several times by Premier Members Credit Union, which tried and failed to draw chuckles from a terrible macrame wall hanging.

Then again, that was preferable to commercials for car manufacturers such as Hyundai, Ford, Chevrolet, KIA and Toyota. Like enterprises such as Kaiser Permanente, Ent Credit Union and Comcast/Xfinity, these businesses used what has already emerged as the COVID-19 advertising template: sad piano music layered over images of closed businesses and empty streets juxtaposed against resilient, mask-wearing Americans standing up to adversity as a narrator talks about how we're all in this together and we're going to come out on the other side stronger than ever. But the automobile ads then mention that special deals mean buyers won't have to make any payments for several months.

When, we can only hope, such commercials will have disappeared from the airwaves once and for all.