ANA Urges Reversal of Michigan's COVID-Related Ad Ban

Advertisers are pushing back on parts of a COVID-19 related executive order issued this week by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. 

The provisions that ANA wants Whitmer to rescind prevent big box stores (over 50,000 square feet) that are remaining open for in-person sales during the pandemic shelter-at-home mandates from advertising any product but "groceries, medical supplies, or items that are necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and basic operation of residences." 

It also prevents the advertising of "a short-term vacation property except as necessary to assist in housing a health care professional or volunteer aiding in the response to the COVID-19 crisis." 

The Association of National Advertisers said that the order is well meaning but misguided.  

"This ban almost certainly violates the First Amendment and the Commerce Clause of the Constitution," said ANA executive VP of Government Relations Dan Jaffe. He said that the order has lots of problems. "For example, it singles out a segment of the retail industry without any explanation as to why only large retail outlets are included in the ban." 

He said the order is not backed up with any evidence that advertising for those stores is less safe than for smaller stores. "The order also is vague, because it is hard to identify what is and is not within the ban," he said. 

For example, could a large retailer not advertise fabric in stock, though that might be used to make face masks. He also points out that the governor has called for maintaining “communications and information technology, including news media” becuase they are essential. "But advertising is the life blood of these news and information organizations," he points out, "and this ban would undermine their capacities and limit the economic support for the programming they carry." 

Besides he said, even ads for the "innumerable activities important to everyday life" are important to supporting a damaged economy. 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.