The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) ruled that a Vic Smith Beds poster should be banned after two members of the public complained about it. It showed an image of an upright mattress, which had a union jack on the front, wearing a green surgical mask.
The text read: ‘British build [sic] beds proudly made in the UK. No nasty imports.’ The ASA agreed that the ad, which ran in a north London newspaper, was likely to cause serious and widespread offence by linking concern about the ongoing coronavirus health emergency to nationality and race.
Vic Smith Beds, a family-run bed and mattress company covering north London, said it had not been its intention to cause offence and that the ad had been run past its ‘multi-cultural workforce, without any issues being raised’.
The company said: ‘It was never [our] intention to be offensive or racist and [we] did not think they had been.’ The spokesperson added that the ad – in the Enfield and Haringey Independent newspaper, on Wednesday, February 12 – was intended to advertise the fact their beds were British-made, rather than sitting in a ‘damp container sent from China’. An ASA spokesperson said the poster was ‘seen in the context of… a developing major outbreak of novel coronavirus’, and added: ‘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.’ Last week, two teenage boys were arrested following an incident involving a Singaporean student, who claims a group shouted ‘coronavirus’ at him, before launching a physical attack.
The spokesperson said its code requires marketing groups to ensure ads do not contain anything ‘likely to cause serious or widespread offence, with particular care to be taken to avoid causing offence on various grounds of protected characteristics, including race’.
They continued: ‘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.