Advertising Standards Authority upholds complaint against Hamilton car dealership's 'misleading' COVID-19 post

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint that a Facebook ad for a Hamilton car dealership was "misleading", as it included a poster that looked very similar to the Government's Unite Against COVID-19 branding.

A sponsored post for Hamilton Electric Vehicles popped up in the complainant's news feed and the ad included a photo of the dealership's entrance, which displayed three COVID-related posters. At the top was a Freedom and Rights Coalition poster that had diagonal yellow and white stripes similar to the Government's Unite Against COVID-19 signs.

It also had the text: "All welcome - Vaxed & Unvaxed. Our business does not discriminate. Unite against Discrimination".

The poster was next to the official QR code sign customers use to scan in when visiting businesses.

In the Facebook post to the right of the photo was the text: "Friday feels (heart and car emojis) - freedom is a thought expressed through our actions, fear and division does not lurk in our EV world (heart emoji)."

The complainant says they were worried the ad was misleading since it implied the Government supported the message that vaccinated and unvaccinated people were equally welcome at Hamilton Electric Vehicles. They were also concerned it used official Government COVID-19 branding without permission.

The advertiser defended their Facebook post and said it wasn't misleading or in breach of copyright, according to the decision released by the ASA.

"What a joke, we downloaded them from the MBIE website. I'm not interested in entertaining this woke dribble," Hamilton Electric Vehicles said.

"The ASA can do what it likes with whatever muppet took the time to complain. The signage remains. It is NOT misleading, it is NOT illegal, it is NOT copyright or a breach in any way, shape or form.

"Over 3200 people have liked, seen or commented on the post and NOT one single person has taken exception to it, except this muppet."

There are many different posters available on the Government's COVID-19 website, including for vaccine passes, how to scan into a business safely, and what to do if you're riding public transport.

There are not any that fit the description of what Hamilton Electric Vehicles says they got online.

Advertising Standards Authority upholds complaint against Hamilton car dealership's 'misleading' COVID-19 post
Photo credit: Reddit / Thecussen

The ASA's complaints board said it agreed the ad was misleading since the image in the post included a poster that was visually similar to what the Government uses for its Unite Against COVID-19 messaging, yet contained a different message.

"The advertisement used the same yellow stripes and general layout and design of the Government Unite Against COVID advertisements, but did not advocate widespread vaccination against COVID-19," the ASA's decision says.

"The Board said this advertisement was misleading because it created confusion for consumers about Government COVID-19 messaging when it appeared in their Facebook feed. This was especially of concern in the context of the COVID-19 global pandemic."

The complaint was upheld and the ad was removed.