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The health emergency that has brought Spain, and a large part of the world’s population, to a halt, due to the spread of COVID-19, also affects communication on social networks and other media. Surprising as it may be, certain market players may be trying to take advantage of the situation resulting from the pandemic to advertise their brands.

In an attempt to prevent the spread of false advertising, different information society intermediaries, including Facebook and Google, have chosen to ban ads referring to coronavirus that promise a cure or prevention, as well as those that create a sense of alarm or emergency relating to the virus. They have temporarily banned adverts for masks, the increased sale of which from the spread of COVID-19 has been exponential, to the point of causing shortages for health care staff.

Steps are also being taken to eliminate adverts relating to COVID-19 that are not strictly truthful and increase social alarm. Twitter has updated its security policy to ban tweets that could contribute to the spread of COVID-19 either because they reject expert opinion on the virus or because they impersonate health care authorities. So, for example, a tweet that denies the effectiveness of social distancing would be removed, as would any tweets analyzing symptoms or encouraging people to break quarantine.

For their part, the European authorities have started to take action against companies that intend to increase their impact thanks to COVID-19. Such is the case of the Dutch gambling regulatory authority (the “KSA”), which has cautioned different operators for advertising themselves using promotional phrases referencing the virus (e.g., “Play without coronavirus“), arguing that they are contrary to the law regulating games of chance in the Netherlands. However, the KSA qualified its statement confirming that notifications of postponement of sweepstakes and competitions because of the virus will not be considered advertising.

Also on advertising during the COVID-19 pandemic, Royal Decree 463/2020, declaring the state of emergency to manage the health crisis caused by COVID-19 (on which we reported last week in our blog) sets out in article 19 the obligation of public and private media to insert adverts, messages and notifications that public authorities consider necessary to issue. Therefore, the media may be ordered to issue the communications that the competent delegated authorities, and the regional and local administrations consider necessary to manage the COVID-19 crisis.

Finally, we highlight that exploiting fear is prohibited when promoting and advertising products and services. Under the Code of Advertising and Marketing Communication Practice of the International Chamber of Commerce, commercial advertising must not, without valid reason, use fear or exploit misfortune and suffering. This too is reflected in the Spanish Self-Regulation of Conduct in Advertising. Now is a good time, therefore, to reflect on whether commercial communications during the spread of COVID-19, irrespective of their form, would breach these principles for being linked to the virus that, without doubt, has the world on tenterhooks.

Author: Alicia Costas

This post is also available in: Español

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alicia.costas@cuatrecasas.com