COVID-19: ASA announcements in wake of Coronavirus ads
The ASA has issued a number of announcements over the last month in response to the COVID-19 pandemic:
- A new reporting form has been introduced to enable consumers to notify the ASA about problematic coronavirus ads. It does not require any personal details. The ASA has already banned ads that are harmful, misleading, or irresponsibly suggest that certain products, such as some kinds of facemasks, offer significant protection from coronavirus. The primary aim of the ASA is to protect the public by continuing to take action against ads promoting 'cures' or 'guaranteed protection' from the virus.
- On a similar theme, the ASA is working as part of a broader coalition of consumer protection and enforcement bodies, including Citizens Advice and National Trading Standards, to raise awareness of and protect people from coronavirus-related scams. They have published advice which is applicable to all sorts of scams, but which is particularly relevant at the moment, when reports of fraudsters trying to profit from coronavirus anxiety are becoming more common. The advice covers normal good practice, such as being alert to spelling and grammatical mistakes in emails, avoiding opening attachments and downloading files from unfamiliar senders, and never providing anyone with confidential personal information.
- The ASA website now includes a page and links that set out the ASA's regulatory approach to the issues created by the pandemic. This approach reflects the normal prioritisation principles adopted by the ASA, but acknowledges that businesses and members of the public may want additional clarification about what this means in the context of COVID-19.
- The ASA is warning gambling operators to pay even more attention to their responsibilities under the Advertising Codes. Their concern is that lockdown has created a captive audience which is likely to include vulnerable people who see gambling as an escape from additional financial and psychological challenges occasioned by the virus. The UK Advertising Codes already state that marketing for gambling products must not exploit vulnerabilities, or be targeted through its content or placement at under-18s.
These announcements do not involve a significant departure from established ASA principles, but are intended to convey the message that, although the ASA offices may be closed, staff working remotely are continuing with regulatory activities.