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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Pandemic effects

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"Tough times call for sound, sensitive, thought-out measures."

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The Belo Medical group came under fire this week for releasing a video advertisement called Pandemic Effect.

The video shows a woman seated in front of her television set, distressed by the bad news she hears. Her appearance changes—she develops eyebags and pimples, gains weight, and grows copious hair on her face, under her arms and on her legs.

During a video call, the person she is talking to sounds aghast, asking: “Ano’ng nangyari (what happened)?”

The ad ends with a call to action. “Tough times call for beautiful measures,” it says, exhorting the viewer to book a consultation with Belo.

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The public’s reaction was swift and unforgiving. Social media were flooded with comments about how the ad body shamed women and how it was insensitive during these difficult times.

The agency behind the ad, Gigil, defended its creation in a statement: “Being in lockdown gave us less reasons to care about how we look, since we’re all stuck at home. Much of our time is also spent hearing stressful news. And we absorb this negative energy that manifests itself in our appearance, without us even realizing it. (That is, until we look in the mirror.)”

The agency added: “This pandemic has been exhausting. Luckily, Belo reminds us that it’s here to take care of us.”

But the backlash only intensified, causing Belo to eventually take down the ad and apologize to the public. 

“We apologize about our recent Pandemic Effect film. Thank you for being gracious in letting us know your thoughts about it.

“We hear you. You helped us see what we failed to see, which is that the film is insensitive and upsetting. Because of this, we have taken the ad down.

“We commit ourselves to learning from this and bringing our learnings into the future.”

That was a humble, direct and—we hope—sincere admission of a mistake. I hope not only Belo but advertisers and ad agencies do not even make that same blunder, henceforth, in trying to push their products or services. 

It also highlighted that an expression of outrage does work. So by all means, let us call out everything that violates our sense of right and wrong. 

* * *

Then again, what pandemic effects have there been for millions of Filipinos?

The many answers are obvious: Sickness, even death, in the family, workplace and social circles. Constant anxiety about contracting the virus or passing it on to someone with weaker immunity. An overburdened healthcare system and overworked medical frontliners. Loss of jobs or livelihood. Closure of businesses. Uncertainty about the future. Uncertainty about where the next meal will come from. Worsening mental health issues across all segments of the population. Disruption in education. Heightened gaps between the rich and the poor.

Let’s not get started about what we are seeing among the people who are supposed to lead us during these tough times.

So what if we allow ourselves to get bogged down by bad news, or feel like we are in an indefinite limbo, or find little incentive in looking our best?

These pandemic effects are deep and complex and have far-reaching consequences. Tough times call for sound, sensitive, thought-out measures. They call for decency, kindness and compassion, balanced with logic, objectivity and decisions based on fact.

Certainly, our predicament demands far more than cosmetic solutions.

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