Ads featuring oxygen masks, finger licking and hugs all put on hold due to coronavirus

KFC's logo as seen at Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport.
SOPA Images

Encouraging people to lick their fingers while eating probably isn't the best advice when coronavirus has become a pandemic.

A U.K. TV ad campaign featuring people eating KFC's fried chicken and sensuously licking their fingers has been paused in light of the outbreak, as health bodies around the world encourage people to frequently and thoroughly wash their hands and avoid personal contact. The ad showed a montage of people eating, while Chopin's Nocturne Opus 9 No.2 played in the background.

But it didn't seem like the right time to air the ads, according to a KFC U.K. spokesperson. "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," the spokesperson told CNBC via email on Monday.

KFC, which is owned by Yum Brands, coined its catchphrase "finger lickin' good" more than 60 years ago.

People had complained to British ad body the Advertising Standards Association (ASA) about the ad, but as KFC had already decided to postpone airing it, no further investigation was needed, according to the spokesperson.

Eaterlondon: An ad campaign based on licking your fingers could not have come out at a worse time

Companies like Zoom, which provides video conferencing, as well as messaging app Slack, could benefit from the working from home trend caused by the virus, but it's less appropriate for a beer brand. Coors Light made the decision to pull an ad that named it "the official beer of working remotely," on Thursday, because of concerns it appeared to make light of steps that companies were taking to safeguard employees. The ad had been slated to run ahead of basketball tournament March Madness, which has now been canceled.

Last week deodorant brand Axe also pressed pause on a campaign that showed a basketball spectator imagining people fleeing a game due to the smell from his armpits, with airplane-style oxygen face masks dropping into the crowd. It was due to run in (now-canceled) NCAA tournament games, per an article on industry website Ad Age.

And for Hershey, even an ad showing people hugging and shaking hands was ruled too risky by the company and has been replaced by spots focusing on the chocolate bars themselves.

Adage: Hershey temporarily pulls ads with hugs and handshakes amid coronavirus concerns

The impact of the coronavirus on ad spend is uncertain, according to research body WARC. It said that marketing dollars could be diverted away from billboards and toward streaming or gaming as people stay at home, or companies could reduce their overall spend depending on the economic impact of the virus.

Other companies are continuing with ads that show human contact. Unilever's Dollar Shave Club (DSC) pressed on with the launch of its latest ad campaign, "Borrowed for a reason" showing a man in the shower discovering his girlfriend's leg hair stuck to his razor. The campaign launched on Monday to promote a razor sharing pack, equipped with two handles and several cartridges.

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