Companies seeking to exploit the coronavirus epidemic to boost their revenues have been sent a warning after the ad watchdog branded a series of ads promoting face masks as protection against the virus “alarmist”, “irresponsible”, and “likely to exploit people’s fears”.
The ads from Estonian firm Novads OU ran on a raft of online news sites, including the Scottish Sun, CNN and gloriously titled Disease Prevention World.
The executions showed pictures of a face mask and claimed that a mask was “one of the best ways to protect yourself” against coronavirus, other viruses and pollutants.
They went on to claim that the masks were a “breakthrough” and offered “unparalleled protection”. In one ad, it claimed the masks could stop “94% of viruses, bacteria, chemicals, pollution, dust, pollen and smoke”.
The ads claimed the spread of the virus was “barely controllable” and said this was a “terrifying time”.
The campaign did not attract a single consumer complaint but sparked an investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority acting on its own concerns. Novads did not respond to the ASA’s inquiries, however.
In its ruling, the watchdog noted that Public Health England did not recommend the use of face masks as a means of protection from coronavirus, adding that Novads had used “alarmist” language that was likely to “exploit people’s fears”.
Banning the ads from appearing again, the watchdog concluded: “In a context where the relevant public health authority had not recommended face masks as a means of the public protecting themselves from coronavirus, we considered that the ads were misleading, irresponsible and likely to cause fear without justifiable reason.”