Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), Public Health England (PHE), Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), Novads OU (Novads), Vic Smith Bedding Ltd (VSB), Easy Shopping 4 Home Ltd (ES4H), The Private Harley Street Clinic (PHSC), Cosmetic Medical Advice UK Ltd (CMAU), and REVIV UK Ltd (REVIV)
Where: United Kingdom
When: March – April 2020
Law stated as at: 4 May 2020
The ASA has ruled against a number of ads with claims relating to Covid-19 under a number of different issues:
The ASA investigated ads that claimed specific intravenous vitamin drips were effective at protecting consumers from Covid-19. The ASA sought advice from the MHRA, who confirmed that mentioning the coronavirus or Covid-19 would subject those products to medicine regulations.
Marketers using medicinal claims under those regulations must therefore show that:
- the product or its ingredients were licensed medicinal products; and
- if yes, those medicinal claims conformed with the product’s or ingredients’ summary of product characteristics.
The ASA held in those recent cases that either the products or ingredients constituting the products were not licensed medicinal products at all or, if the ingredients used were indeed licensed, they were not indicated for the prevention or treatment of Covid-19.
The ASA has also recently released an Enforcement Notice against ads that claim IV drips could help prevent or treat Covid-19. This means the ASA will start targeted enforcement against such ads, and applies to claims that directly or indirectly (e.g. references that its products or its ingredients treat “viral infections”) refer to Covid-19.
Claims about preventing transmission
The ASA also made a number of rulings about ads for masks, which were advertised as being effective at preventing the transmission of the coronavirus.
In coming to their decision, they considered that Public Health England did not recommend using face masks for protection against Covid-19, and there was little evidence that wearing masks protected consumers from the virus. On this basis, they held that it was misleading to claim that masks could protect consumers from the virus.
The ASA additionally mentioned that some of the ads contained alarmist language. For example, one ad stated that their face masks were selling out fast. Given that the ASA felt these Covid-19 claims were taking advantage of people’s fears regarding the outbreak, these ads were deemed to be irresponsible.
Claims that could cause offence
Recently, the ASA issued an upheld ruling against an ad that stated “BRITISH BUILD [sic] BEDS PROUDLY MADE IN THE UK. NO NASTY IMPORTS”. They ruled that the wording – taken in combination with the image of surgical mask on the ad and in the context of the pandemic – was likely to be read as a negative reference to immigration or race, in association with disease. The ASA ruled this was likely to cause serious or widespread offence. More information about this ruling is available here.
Why this matters:
It’s clear from the above rulings that the ASA is prioritising the investigation of ads with COVID-19 claims. Marketers should take care around using COVID-19 related-claims in their ads as they are likely to be subject to higher levels of scrutiny. In particular, in particular ads that include medicinal claims or are seeking to take advantage of current retail conditions should be carefully considered.