7 brands' ads unfortunately timed to the coronavirus pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed more than 5,000 lives around the world, came swiftly and abruptly. Marketers in the U.S. were unprepared for what President Trump on Friday declared as a national emergency. Many brands have hurriedly pulled their ads or postponed campaigns that could appear insensitive during this time, and are deliberating how to move forward.
Below, some ads that have either been pulled or are receiving backlash on social media.
When ASOS first launched its chainmail face masks in August 2019, the e-commerce retailer was already being mocked online for their design. In a tweet at the time of launch, the retailer promoted them saying: “Festival season/flu season/dealing with close-talkers, meet your fave new year-round piece.” Maybe they could have been fashionable a few months ago…maybe, but now? Face masks have been the source of a lot of misinformation during the coronavirus, to the point where Facebook and Google this week banned ads for face masks. In the last 24 hours, consumers on Twitter have been complaining about ads they’re seeing for the face masks across platforms.
The silver or gold face masks were being sold for $17. Ads were automated and automatically pulled from the ASOS website, but will no longer show since the company said it has pulled the product recently.
Norwegian Cruise Lines
Norwegian Cruise Lines ads have been everywhere in the past couple weeks, airing on TV, plastered on billboards and across social media platforms. The cruise line paid nearly $10 million for digital ads this year with ads on sites like Wayfair and Expedia as well, according to the New York Times which, on Tuesday, reported on the awkward ad placement of a Norwegian Cruise Line ad on the CNN show “Erin Burnett OutFront.” The TV ad appeared during a commercial break from coverage about people isolated on the Grand Princess cruise ship because of coronavirus cases.
The ad is an optimistic spot showing people enjoying their cruise, with a tagline: “Feel free to feel more.” It last aired on Wednesday, March 11, according to iSpot.tv. The cruise line’s timing was unfortunate to say the least. The cruise industry has been hit hard with the onslaught of the coronavirus, and on Friday Norwegian Cruise line announced it would suspend trips until April 11. The company did not respond to a request for comment, or whether the ads have been pulled, in time for publication.
Geico has confirmed that it has pulled a spot called “Perfect High Five." In the spot, from The Martin Agency, a woman who just switched to Geico describes that doing so feels like when you give a co-worker a really good high-five. On social, people have been critiquing the ad for running in light of people practicing “social distancing” during the virus. One person said it “sends the message that Geico doesn’t care.” A spokesperson at The Martin Agency said the ad was pulled last Thursday, although iSpot.tv says the ad last aired on March 15.
Not all brands are suffering during the pandemic. Cleaning brands are selling out and Reckitt Benckiser’s Lysol is one of the top performers. Spray sanitizers, led by RB’s Lysol, were up 32 percent from a year ago, according to Nielsen. But with all the outages of Lysol wipes and sprays in stores and online, Lysol’s current ads are coming under fire since people cannot as easily purchase its products, and for some, seems insensitive.
Lysol is running three ads on TV and across social, two promoting its spray and one focused on kids being healthy in schools. They were still airing on March 15, according to iSpot.TV. One video, where a boy rubs his dripping nose on a nearby doll, mentions that the spray kills H3N2 flu virus, not coronavirus. Reckitt Benckiser did not respond in time for publication.
On Thursday, KFC announced it was suspending a U.K. campaign where people are seen licking their fingers along to Chopin piano music after eating the chain’s fried chicken. The TV and billboard campaign, created by Mother London, used the fast feeder’s long-running “finger lickin’ good” tagline. On billboards, people were shown licking their fingers with the words “It’s and “good” positioned around them. The Advertising Standards Authority in the U.K. told Ad Age that it had received 163 complaints about the ads, which were launched in late February, before hand hygiene became a preventative measure to the coronavirus.
“It doesn’t feel like the right time to be airing this campaign, so we’ve decided to pause it for now—but we’re really proud of it and look forward to bringing it back at a later date.”
Axe rethought its “Don’t Overthink It” campaign after the NCAA tournament was canceled due to coronavirus issues. The first TV spot in the campaign, created by MullenLowe, Los Angeles, aired last Monday on National Basketball Association broadcasts and showed a man imagining his stinky armpits caused a crowd in a basketball arena to scramble in fear. Airline-style oxygen masks drop for people to use for their protection. The Unilever brand, which is a sponsor of the NCAA, has suspended running the ad for now.
The sentiment of some of Hershey’s latest ads in its “Heartwarming the world” campaign didn’t exactly fit in with precautions and the “social distancing” people are taking during the current coronavirus pandemic. Hershey’s pulled two spots from Mcgarrybowen that showed people handing out Hershey bars with hugs and handshakes, and is replacing them with product-focused spots, also created by Mcgarrybown.
“Sadly, we have decided to temporarily replace two of our ads that feature human interaction, that include hugging and handshakes, due to the current sensitivities surrounding the COVID-19 virus,” Hershey Co. Chief Marketing Officer Jill Baskin said in a statement to Ad Age. “At this time, our ads have been replaced with product-centric spots.”