In our recent article, “COVID-19: It’s Advertising as Usual in New Zealand”, we commented on guidance published by New Zealand’s Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”) to assist advertisers with compliance with its advertising codes during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Although the ASA guidance focuses on the advertising of alcohol or therapeutic and health products or services, a recent ASA decision has accentuated the importance of ensuring advertising of all products and services in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic is socially responsible. 

Furniture advertisement referencing COVID-19 upheld as socially irresponsible and insensitive 

The ASA has released a decision by the Complaints Board (“Board”) in relation to advertisements placed by furniture company Idyia Limited, upholding a complaint that the advertisements inappropriately referenced the COVID-19 pandemic to promote furniture.  

The offending advertising content was contained in email advertisements and displayed on the company website and stated:

“Spread the Savings during the Lockdown. VIRAL SALE. Refer a friend and get 10% savings. Further spread the savings by shopping over NZD 300 to gift a NZD 30 store credit to your friend too!! Be Generous, Spread the Savings.” 

The Board considered that in the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic and taking into account medium, audience and product, the advertisements were not socially responsible and were in breach of Principle One of the Advertising Standards Code.  This principle requires advertisements to be prepared and placed with a due sense of social responsibility to consumers and to society.  The Board held that the advertisements failed to meet this standard, by including deliberate, if tacit, reference to the pandemic through use of the words “viral”, “spread” and “lockdown”. 

The timing of preparation of the advertisements, which were prepared during the pandemic, was also considered by the Board.  While it was acknowledged that there may have been less adverse outcomes from the virus at the time the advertisements were placed, due to the significant and evolving impact of the virus both in New Zealand and globally, this argument did not persuade the Board from finding a breach of the Advertising Standards Code had occurred.   

The Board also noted the advertiser’s claim that the word “viral” is often associated with the digital spread of information.  However, the Board found that it was clear in the circumstances that the advertisements made deliberate reference to the COVID-19 virus.

The decision highlights the need to ensure that advertising is responsible and that particular care is taken when referencing sensitive issues or events.