Brand Safety Work & Wellbeing

ASA condemns regional newspapers for running anti-vax ads

By John Glenday | Reporter

May 25, 2022 | 4 min read

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned a series of anti-vaccination ads that misleadingly implied endorsement by public bodies.

At issue were two regional press adverts placed by campaigner Stacey Bradley in The Rotherham Advertiser and the digital version of the Argus, which inferred that Covid-19 vaccinations were unsafe and illegal.

anti vaxx

The ‘harmful and socially irresponsible’ anti-vax ads have been banned by the ASA

The paid pieces were used to promote a conspiracy theory that the Metropolitan Police (MPS) and South Yorkshire Police (SYP) had opened criminal investigations into the administration of vaccines without supporting evidence, eliciting six reader complaints.

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The first ad appeared in January with large-font text declaring a ‘National emergency’ and ‘The truth is out’ in red-and-yellow striped banners. This was followed by the words ‘criminal investigation’ and the Metropolitan Police logo.

There followed a public call for anyone with negative vaccine experiences to seek out additional information on the alleged side effects.

In response, the Rotherham Advertiser promised never to run the ads again nor to publish any adverts featuring the logo of the police without permission, but argued that the ad was not misleading as it was possible to have an adverse reaction to the vaccine.

Upholding the complaints, the ASA wrote: “We considered that the implication in the ads that Covid-19 vaccines were unsafe and that the vaccine program was illegal had the effect of encouraging vaccine hesitancy. Further, because the ads gave the impression of being placed, approved or endorsed by public bodies, we considered readers were likely to pay greater attention and place greater trust in the ads’ message. Because of that, we considered the ads were unduly alarming and caused fear of Covid-19 vaccines without justifiable reason.”

In consequence, the ASA informed Stacey Bradley that all future ads must not falsely imply an endorsement from public bodies nor imply that Covid-19 vaccinations are unsafe.

Militant anti-vaxxers have proven to be a thorn in the side of public health officials and social media owners throughout the pandemic, presenting a quandary as to how best to promote science when set against high emotion.

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