Set of four retro tv setsThe coronavirus global pandemic has brought with it very serious health risks and untold economic damage. In an effort to do what they can to limit the misery, brands are now having to re-think their marketing plans to engage with consumers responsibly.


For example, The Drum reported that KFC pulled a number of ads in light of the outbreak of the coronavirus. Over 160 people lodged complaints with the UK advertising regulator, the Advertising Standards Authority, concerning KFC’s Finger Lickin’ Good’ campaign. A KFC spokesperson stated,

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.

To help combat the spread of the coronavirus, international health advisors emphasise hand-washing, social distancing and general hygiene standards. The KFC ads contained scenes of customers licking sauce from their fingers, whilst other ads contained information on ‘finger licking etiquette’. With that in mind, the brand took the sensible step of calling a halt to the campaign.

Other brands

Other brands have released ads providing messages of support during this time of global crisis. Guinness’ St. Patrick’s Day ad included messages of solidarity to communities, advising customers to celebrate the Irish holiday safely and sensibly. The brewer also committed $500,000 to its ‘Guinness Gives Back’ fund to help local communities.


In China, some brands and influencers have been posting content that appears to market the facemask worn by many during this crisis, as a facial accessory. In one case, an influencer has posted an “outbreak make up” routine, promoting smudge-proof lipstick and foundation, which can be worn beneath a facemask.

In yet another blow to healthcare professionals, social media appears to have become a “hot bed of dubious tips”, reports online magazine, Wired.

Social media

In March 2020, social media sites, including Facebook and Instagram, pledged to temporarily remove ad listings for facemasks. The sites also banned listings for products that falsely claimed that certain products are in limited supply or that promoted fake cures.

eBay also banned listings that purported to sell facemasks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Although it appears that, in the UK at least, that ban was also temporary—in the wake of the initial panic surrounding the then impending lockdown. Now that stocks of supplies have been replenished, listings on the site have resumed.  Amazon had also imposed similar measures, removing listings that sold such items at an inflated price.

Brands should consider the content of their ads carefully while the world deals with the outbreak of the coronavirus. Advertisers and their agencies need to balance the desire to market products and generate goodwill and positive publicity with social responsibility and the risk of any public backlash or further government restrictions.

Help, support, advice, guidance signpostSquire Patton Boggs specialises in advising on advertising and marketing law matters. If you would like advice on these and related issues, please contact partner Carlton Daniel.