March 12, 2020
Britain’s advertising regulator on Wednesday banned a newspaper advertisement for allegedly associating the coronavirus with immigrants. North London-based bed company Vic Smith Beds ran an advertisement in a local newspaper on Feb. 12. The advert said: “British Build Beds Proudly Made In The UK. No Nasty Imports.” The image was of a mattress sat upright, painted in the Union Jack, and wearing a green face mask. Two people reported the advertisement to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), arguing it was likely to cause serious and widespread offense.
Vic Smith Beds said it did not intend to be racist, and did not believe it had been, and had “run the ad past its multi-cultural workforce” and that no one raised an issue. The company said that their customer base was multi-ethnic so it would not make sense to offend them. The company said it wanted to highlight that their beds were made in the U.K. “rather than sitting in a damp container sent from China.” The image of the mask was meant to refer to mould spores and smells that could develop in those conditions, it added.
The ASA said in its ruling: “The ad was seen in the context of widespread news coverage of a developing major outbreak of novel coronavirus.” “News outlets had also reported some groups being physically and verbally targeted because of their nationality and/or race in relation to fears about coronavirus. The ASA understood that, in particular, a number of Asian people had reported receiving abuse as a result of wearing face masks,” the regulator said.
“We noted the reference to “BRITISH BUILD” [sic] beds, and the image of the Union Jack, and we understood that the advertiser’s intention was to draw attention to the fact that their beds were made in the UK. However, we also considered that the phrase “NO NASTY IMPORTS”, in combination with the image of the surgical mask, was likely to be taken as a reference to the coronavirus outbreak. We considered that in combination with the image, the reference to “nasty imports” was likely to be read as a negative reference to immigration or race, and in particular as associating immigrants with disease,” it added. “We therefore concluded that the ad was likely to cause serious and widespread offence.” The ASA ruled that the advert must not be published again.