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2 Cheap Cars defends coronavirus advert as 'light-hearted' jab at 'heavy issue'

A used car retailer is under fire for a new ad criticised as making light of the coronavirus outbreak.

2 Cheap Cars is defending an advert featuring the coronavirus which has been criticised as "off-beat", saying it's "light-hearted". Source: Supplied

2 Cheap Cars' ad started running on Sunday, two days after the Ministry of Health confirmed New Zealand's first case of Covid-19.

The ad contains a photo of a man in a face mask on public transport and touching his face.

The accompanying text reads: "Worried about using public transport? We’ve got loads of cars below $5000 or from $25 per week. Get in quick for a great deal!"

According to Facebook's data accessed by 1 NEWS, 2 Cheap Cars paid for the ad to be displayed across Facebook, Messenger and Instagram.

When asked about the ad, chief executive Dan Buckley told 1 NEWS the coronavirus outbreak was "such a red hot topic that you can't really avoid if you are looking at a screen".

"I’m a pretty sensitive person, but I can enjoy a bit of a joke. It is a heavy issue and however it unfolds for humanity I think we all need to stay light-hearted, right?" he says.

The full 2 Cheap Cars ad in a screenshot taken by 1 NEWS. Source: 1 NEWS

He did not answer questions about the timing of the ad's creation and the first confirmed Covid-19 case in New Zealand.

"We are pretty light-hearted people at 2 Cheap Cars and it is a heavy issue, but I think it can be calming to have a little fun with heavy issues like coronavirus," he said instead.

There's been mixed reaction to the advert after it was shared on Reddit yesterday afternoon.

"I think that's because it exploits fears of consumers to coerce them into buying a car, and many people, including myself, disagree with such methods," one person wrote, with another calling it "off-beat".

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Another said it was a "smart marketing team", while one user pointed to previous criticism around 2 Cheap Cars' advertising that has seen it scolded by the Commerce Commission.

Last July, the retailer was fined $438,000 for "blatantly untrue", "misleading" and "devious" behaviour.

"To be fair this is probably one of the least scummiest things they've done to sell cars," the user says.

Mr Buckley claims the new advert is based on truth.

"If you are bussing around – a car IS going to lessen any exposure to a possible coronavirus pick up," he says.

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Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin talked to TVNZ1’s Breakfast about the car dealer’s misleading practices. Source: Breakfast

It comes after a similar light-hearted ad from a Hamilton bar last year, which linked coronavirus to the Corona beer and offered a discounted rate.

That ad ended up being removed after widespread criticism and at the request of Lion, the brewery behind Corona beer.

Advertisements come under the jurisdiction of the Advertising Standards Authority, which operates the ASA Advertising Codes.

"The purpose of the Advertising Standards Code (Code) is to ensure that every advertisement is a responsible advertisement," the ASA says.

"All advertising must be legal, decent, honest and truthful and respect the principles of fair competition, so that the public can have confidence in advertising."

Punishments for ads that are ruled to have breached the standards include fines, as well as forcing their removal.

No official complaints have been made against the ad so far, the Advertising Standards Agency told 1 NEWS.