As we continue to make our way through the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses of all sizes are becoming incredibly agile. They are getting the word out about their products and services in new and novel ways. COVID-19 advertising online can be a tricky road to navigate, with many potential potholes, though. If you are a healthcare or community organization who is trying to provide vital products and services to your community during the pandemic, here are some guidelines to help you make your way – safely and ethically.
What are the realities of COVID-19 advertising online?
The reality of COVID-19 is that advertising regulations are changing in response to a fast-moving pandemic. One thing is true, though. Thankfully, social media platforms are actively discouraging the harmful spread of misinformation by tightening ad restrictions and putting oversights into place.
But this protective practice makes it hard to know where to start. What can you say? What’s safe? What’s not allowed?
These regulations are changing every day. The high-level overview we discuss below cannot go into every detail about COVID-19 advertising and we focus on digital restrictions only. It’s also crucial to note that online advertising rules are subject to change. Check in with links below to make sure you’re up-to-date.
Facebook COVID-19 advertising regulations
At the time of this article, Facebook COVID-19 guidelines had been updated to include specific regulations on COVID-19 advertising.
Important COVID-19 advertising updates from Facebook address the following categories.
Facebook’s controversial content guideline is explicit: “Ads must not contain content that exploits crises or controversial political or social issues for commercial purposes.”
In the COVID era, this has extended to not placing ads that capitalize on a crisis or exploit fears. So, while it is okay to advertise hand sanitizer, wipes, and non-medical masks, there are restrictions on advertising goods and services like COVID-19 at-home tests or COVID vaccinations.
If you do advertise hand sanitizer, wipes, and masks, other temporary rules are in place, such as:
- You must have been advertising on Facebook for at least four months
- Your account must be in good standing
- Advertisers in certain countries must limit their ads to their country only
Another caveat is that the words you use matter. Sensationalist language (e.g., “You are in grave danger without this product!”) is strictly prohibited.
Which brings us to misleading claims. In a sentence, “Ads must not contain deceptive, false, or misleading claims like those relating to the effectiveness or characteristics of a product or service or claims setting unrealistic expectations for users such as misleading health, employment or weight-loss claims.”
You cannot claim that your product is guaranteed to do anything. That’s the simplest way to look at it. This is especially enforced when advertisers in the COVID era make unsubstantiated health claims. Nothing can claim to be 100% effective against transmission (or treatment) of COVID-19.
What claims are allowed?
You can point to research that indicates a product’s effectiveness, along with directing consumers to their doctor for advice. You can also let your community know that you offer things like:
- New rapid-testing machines
- Telehealth appointments
- Free COVID-19 tests
You cannot make any misleading medical claims beyond that.
In terms of community standards, Facebook COVID-19 guidelines double down on prohibitions against hate speech, bullying, harassment, and misinformation.
This is especially important, as many consumers are confused, anxious, and concerned about many things surrounding COVID. Take good care to advertise in a way that supports people in staying healthy – not intimidates them with fear or coercion.
Instagram advertising guidelines
Instagram COVID-19 guidelines mirror Facebook’s (they are owned by Facebook).
These regulations may be challenging in a platform that sometimes seems to thrive on larger-than-life photos and story ads. However, it’s important to remember your goals as a business.
If you want to build relationships with your customers and add value to their lives, avoid making sensationalist claims. They will appreciate your support in a time that was already challenging enough without wading through false or misleading advertising!
COVID-19 Google Ads policies
COVID-19 Google ads policies includes regulations regarding the environment they want to create. They also set down who can advertise in the first place.
Their “Sensitive Events” ad policy has been recently amended to include both COVID and the recent U.S. elections. The COVID portion of the update consists of the following statement: “Google is monitoring the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) as the situation evolves, and we are taking the necessary steps to maintain a safe advertising ecosystem.”
What is a “safe advertising ecosystem”? That means no:
- Hate speech, shocking images, or harassment
- Ads that target a specific group based on race, gender, gender identity, etc.
- Claims that contradict scientific evidence
Other important COVID-19 Google ads policies are similar to those set by Facebook. Selling N95, medical-grade masks on Google to non-medical personnel is strictly prohibited. As of June 2020, the only advertisers allowed to run ads providing COVID-19 information are:
- Government organizations
- Healthcare providers
- Non-governmental organizations
- Intergovernmental organizations
- Managed private sector accounts (with a history of ad policy compliance)
The same restrictions still apply in terms of making misleading claims or selling harmful substances with inappropriate uses.
Twitter COVID-19 advertising rules
Twitter is most recently famous for cracking down on misleading political speech. In 2020, they also tightened restrictions on many of the same areas as the other platforms.
Twitter does allow for ad references that highlight changes in business practices due to COVID-19. They also support references that highlight help for customers and employees in light of the pandemic.
However, Twitter’s “inappropriate content” rules do not allow references to COVID-19 in ads that:
- Inflate product prices
- Use language that causes fear or panic
- Refers to COVID-19 in a way that is “distasteful”
As with the other platforms, Twitter prohibits ads for medical-grade personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as hand sanitizer.
Twitter’s COVID-19 advertising policy also focusing on creating community, offering a sense of normalcy in trying times, and showing support for others.
COVID-19 advertising can be incredibly tricky. You want your community to know the services you’re offering that could help them but must do so in a careful manner.
If you need help figuring out the best way to market your healthcare or community organization, get in touch with Boost. We can help you figure out your best options.