Measures to ensure responsible advertising in times of COVID-19 – Webinar organised by EASA

On 19 May,  EASA, the European Advertising Standards Alliance, organised a webinar on measures that ensure responsible advertising in times of Corona. A substantial number of ads related to coronavirus have been reported as misleading. A particular challenge arises when ads circulate in one EU Member State but carry in media originating in another.

It is for cases like this that EASA and its member network have developed a cross border complaint system.  Participants of the webinar included the European Commission, EASA , the International Council of Ad Self-Regulation (ICAS).

Marie Paule Benassi of the European Commission’ DG Just talked about the Consumer Protection Cooperation Network and its work related to COVID-19. Under the competent authorities of the Member States and EEA countries, with the support of the European Commission, have the legal obligation to cooperate in cross-border cases to enforce the EU consumer law in the Single Market. More practically, this regulation equips Member States and consumer protection authorities with new minimum powers to effectively address violations especially in the online world, and provides for strong coordinated mechanisms to tackle widespread infractions.

As most of the infractions happen online, the Commission has also collaborated with 11 online platforms that are influential in terms of search engines and market places and asked them to take into account the CPC regulation and to remove those kind of practices from its platforms.

According to Justina Raizyte, EASA the highest number of complaints handled by the SRO network related to issues of misleading advertising (e.g. health, financial claims), followed by topics addressing other social responsibility aspects (e.g.  irresponsible social behavior, fearmongering). Ads for health and self-care products and services were most complained about followed by household products, retail and leisure services. In the period from mid-March until mid-May, European SROs handled 588 complaints about advertising, addressed consumer queries,provided support for ad industry (e.g. copy advice, specific guidelines and recommendations), raised awareness via targeted information campaigns and communications (e.g. webinars, articles, blogs) and cooperated with other consumer related bodies and industry partners (e.g. consumer/competition authorities,  digital platforms), proving their diligence  in ensuring responsible advertising in Europe.

Sybille Stanciu from ICAS provided an overview of the actions undertaken by the international SRO network. Its  quick complaint handling system, for example,  recorded over 1.076 ads related to Corona campaigns in 9 markets outside of Europe.

The webinar showed how some ads can become inappropriate rather than misleading in some contexts and how these issues can be addressed through self-regulatory complaint systems. In fact, social Media and online platforms are the most affected by misleading commercial practices related to Covid 19. They are struggling with some traders that are circumventing measures taken by platforms to prevent illegal or harmful practices by using images that are hard to detect.