A product listing for face masks from Easy Shopping 4 Home Ltd, hosted on www.amazon.co.uk and seen in February 2020, stated “Coronavirus Anti Corona Virus Vented Face Mask 3M Disposable Respirator, FFP3, Valve, 8835 (1)”.
The ASA challenged whether the ad was misleading, irresponsible and scaremongering.
Easy Shopping 4 Home Ltd did not respond to the ASA's enquiries.
The ASA was concerned by Easy Shopping 4 Home Ltd's lack of response and apparent disregard for the Code, which was a breach of CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.7 (Unreasonable delay). We reminded them of their responsibility to provide a substantive response to our enquiries and told them to do so in future.
The ad was seen in the context of widespread news coverage of a developing major outbreak of novel coronavirus 2019-nCov, or COVID-19, (coronavirus) in China, with a small number of cases (contracted overseas) having already been confirmed in the UK. The ASA considered consumers would understand the reference to “coronavirus” in the context of a listing for face masks to mean that the products could help protect them from being infected by the coronavirus.
We noted that Public Health England did not recommend the use of face masks as a means of protection from coronavirus. We understood there was very little evidence of widespread benefit from their use outside of clinical settings, and that prolonged use of masks was likely to reduce compliance with good universal hygiene behaviours that were recommended to help stop the spread of infectious diseases (including coronavirus), such as frequent hand washing and avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. We considered that the reference to “coronavirus” in the listing was likely to exploit people’s fears regarding the coronavirus outbreak. Particularly 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 ad was misleading, irresponsible and likely to cause fear without justifiable reason.
We concluded that the ad breached the Code. The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 1.3 Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society. (Social responsibility), 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 4.2 4.2 Marketing communications must not cause fear or distress without justifiable reason; if it can be justified, the fear or distress should not be excessive. Marketers must not use a shocking claim or image merely to attract attention. (Harm & offence).
The product listing should not appear again. We told Easy Shopping 4 Home Ltd to ensure they did not state or imply that their product could protect consumers from coronavirus and to ensure their ads did not cause fear without justifiable reason. We referred the matter to the CAP Compliance team