Bukele tweets a paid advertisement as real news coverage

 This is a story about how the Bukele government polishes its image through branding and social media.   What appears as a news story about the success of the government in handling the pandemic, is actually just a paid advertisement with material from a branding consultant used by this media-conscious administration.

On November 28, Nayib Bukele tweeted:

"The county in the region which best dealt with the pandemic"

This presidential tweet links to an apparent news article with no by-line which appeared on the website of "Infobae," an Argentine media company.  The article opens:

Reopening to tourism: how El Salvador is preparing, the country that best dealt with the pandemic in the region:

The Central American country achieved a world seal as a safe destination in the new normal. In addition, the City Nation Place forum evaluated it as the country with the best attention to the pandemic in Latin America

Bukele also featured this article on his Facebook page, generating more than 3000 comments and 3500 shares.

The article in Infobae centers on two assertions.   First, that El Salvador was "awarded" the "Safe Travels" seal from the World Travel and Tourism Council ("WTTC").  But this is misleading at best.   The Safe Travels seal is available to any country or travel business which applies to participate and agrees to adhere to a set of COVID-19 safety protocols for safe travel.  The WTTC does not award, inspect or certify applicants.  The WTTC says so specifically in its Safe Travels Stamp Guide:

The Safe Travels stamp is based on self-assessment and it is not a certification. Countries, destination authorities and companies using the stamp have confirmed that they have implemented, and will ensure ongoing compliance with, the Safe Travels protocols and ICAO ‘Takeoff’ guidelines.

The WTTC is not a public health, medical or scientific organization, so the value of the seal is somewhat limited.  Within Central America, the WTTC also lists Nicaragua, Guatemala, Panama and Costa Rica as other destinations using the Safe Travels Seal. 

The Infobae article goes on to say that El Salvador was recognized for its achievements at a world forum of City Nation Place. But what is City Nation Place?   It is an event organizer for those who are involved in "place branding."  It helps people who want to promote the image of their city, nation or place.  In other words, it organize events for public relations professionals who are working to uplift the image of locations in the world wanting to attract tourism.

According to the article, the CEO de Bloom Consulting, José Torres, told a recent world forum of City Nation Place that El Salvador found itself as the country which had best managed the pandemic in Latin America.   But what is Bloom Consulting?   It is a public relations firm whose specialty is "country branding and place branding."   Bloom Consulting lists as one of its clients, the government of El Salvador.   

So that headline which Bukele tweeted out, "the country in the region which best dealt with the pandemic," is actually just a quote from the country's paid branding consultant at an event for other country branding consultants. 

Now back to the original article at Infobae.  At first glance, it looks like a regular news article, but in fact, it is actually nothing but a paid advertisement dressed up as news.  You can tell this by the heading "In House" at the top of the article.  As the Infobae website describes, "In House" produces an "advertorial" just like this one for organizations who want to tell their own story.   It is not journalism, it is advertising.

That advertisement gets even more play as the Ministry of Health retweets Nayib Bukele's original tweet and then adds "We confront and we continue fighting against a pandemic which has affected all the world.   Despite that and with your support President @NayibBukele, we have applied all the strategies and today we are an international reference point."

The next day, the Salvadoran government's new periodical, Diario El Salvador, went on to report the Infobae article as news, labelling Infobae an "international news agency," but neglecting to point out that the article was actually paid advertising by the Salvadoran government.     

And that is how you take a quote from your branding consultant, and a paid "advertorial" and generate fake headlines, and tweets, and more coverage.  It is an example of how politicians can take advantage of non-critical readers who don't have the time or the interest I had to track down all the references and sources and evaluate the complete lack of substance in this presidential tweet.   



Roberto said…
It is true that El Salvador Government is doing advertisement instead of real journalism for describying Bukeles’ achievements but these objections must research facts and statistics to coclusively discredit salvadoran achievements: for example, the security index and the pandemic curve control support these “advertisements” by far. Therefore, journalism or advertisements, El Salvador’ achievements are real.
Frank Belt said…
The government itself is discrediting "salvadoran achievements" by resorting to paid advertisements instead of facts and statistics.
Jared Pérez said…
Salvadoran here. You gotta be very naive and ignorant or like the average Salvadoran to believe Bukele, this dude is nothing but a pathetic megalomaniac, a dirty dictator aspirant. El Salvador is far from being the best at anything.
Don said…
Jared's comment shows how the anti-bukele folks really think. They think that the 90% of Salvadorans that approve of Bukele's management of the violence crisis and covid 19 crisis are stupid. Also, I see Tim is writing for El Faro. FINALLY A SALVADORAN VOICE!!! Congrats Tim!!! We can't wait to read your insights. I'm sure you are down here on the streets doing real investigations.
Jared Pérez said…
Jefferson: First off, that 90% of Salvadorans who approve Bukele´s work exists only in the minds of its “focas”, which, although high, was no more than 50% by September of this year(https://elfaro.net/es/202009/el_salvador/24817/Encuesta-UFG-confirma-a-Nuevas-Ideas-como-primera-fuerza-en-solitario.htm). Second, I did not say that they were stupid, but I did say that they were ignorant and naive, this because, among many other reasons, they refuse to see the verifiable data, either because they ignore the basic premises before reaching wrong conclusions, because they ignore how a democratic state works or because they simply are lovely married with the presidential speech along with their resentments and misinterpretation of reality. Those of us who criticize Bukele do not necessarily adhere to a party, in fact, I am almost certain that most of its critics are anti 'partisans, because we have all supported one or another party at some point in our lives, and it has been the same history and our experience, which has indicated that no ruler is trustworthy. If the majority of Salvadorans continue to cling blindly to a ruler, it is because they have learned nothing from his history.