Don’t use coronavirus for advertising, says Ethics Council
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    Don’t use coronavirus for advertising, says Ethics Council

    The key rule is to "avoid irrelevant references to the coronavirus crisis in new advertising messages." Credit: Belga

    Belgium’s Advertising Council has urged advertisers to not play into the public’s feelings of fear and uncertainty regarding the new coronavirus (Covid-19) after receiving several complaints from the public.

    During the coronavirus pandemic, the Jury of Advertising Ethics (JEP), an independent self-regulatory body of the Belgian advertising sector, is receiving an increasing number of complaints and questions about ads “that might not occur as much under normal circumstances,” it said in a statement on its website, “but express very understandable sensitivities and concerns right now.”

    To prevent more complaints, the Advertising Council made some coronavirus-specific recommendations to the entire advertising sector, with the key rule being to “avoid irrelevant references to the coronavirus crisis in new advertising messages” and ensure that they “do not portray behaviour that undermines the measures taken by the public authorities.”

    Secondly, particular attention should be paid to the current circumstances in a campaign that had already been planned, or if it is recycled. “A campaign that would not have been problematic under normal circumstances may now be perceived as inappropriate by the public,” the Council added.

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    Lastly, ads should not play on feelings of fear, or mention anything, “whether explicit or implicit,” about the specific efficacy of a product to prevent or control the spread of the coronavirus.

    Many advertisements seemed to run counter to the government’s measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, containing messages such as “visit your advisor,” “come to our showroom,” or “our shops are open during the week.” These ads were likely created before the current crisis, according to the JEP.

    Others, however, refer to immune system boosting, “with or without a specific mention of the coronavirus.”

    On top of that, the Jury received complaints about “a digital marketing communication from a foreign advertiser in which two mouth masks were offered at the time of purchase of the product in question.” However, the ad has since been withdrawn.

    Maïthé Chini
    The Brussels Times