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Mattress advertisement banned

Subject: Selling and marketing/Marketing and advertising regulation/ASA

Source: Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)

mattress with Union Jack and foreign import warning

A local newspaper advertisement for Vic Smith Beds included a cartoon image of an upright mattress with a Union Jack and wearing a green surgical mask. Text stated, “BRITISH BUILD [sic] BEDS PROUDLY MADE IN THE UK. NO NASTY IMPORTS”.

The advertisement was challenged by two complainants on the basis that it was likely to cause serious and widespread offence by linking concern about the ongoing coronavirus health emergency to nationality and/or race.

The advertiser intended to refer to mould spores that could develop in those conditions and the smells given off from chemicals from damp rolled mattresses: hence the upright Union Jack.

The ASA noted that the advertisement was seen in the context of widespread news coverage of a developing major outbreak of COVID-19 (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 ASA referred to the CAP Code which required marketers to ensure that advertisements did not contain anything that was 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. The ASA found 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. 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. The ASA therefore concluded that the ad was likely to cause serious and widespread offence and breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 4.1  (Harm and offence).


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