The ASA has been a little quiet over the past couple of months but it seems they've been busy behind the scenes investigating a spate of slimming injection ads that have appeared across social media.
We know that this is an issue that both the ASA here in the UK and the FTC across in America have tackled in the past*. Slimming pills, slimming shakes and even slimming lollipops - they've all be criticised for the regulators - and the issues don't seem to change: they are marketed irresponsibly, they quite often target those who do not actually need to lose any weight and they mostly don't even work. The damage caused by the cumulative effect of a social media feed such as Instagram filled with images of already-slim influencers waxing lyrical about these miracle products cannot be underestimated and it's heartening to see that, even during this pandemic, the ASA is able to identify, challenge and get these ads removed.
I use "identify" because the Gemma Collins investigation was not as a result of a public complaint (the usual trigger for an investigation). The ASA has brought the challenge by itself and it is able to do this when there is a clear public benefit.
The investigation begins by identifying why exactly this post is an ad when, in fact, both Gemma and SkinnyJab (the brand) claimed their commercial relationship had been paused. The ASA's own research uncovered posts and webpages during that "paused" period that show Gemma promoting the product and the ASA was not given any material that showed SkinnyJab had directed Gemma to stop promoting the product.
Additionally, the injectable Semaglutide (brand name Ozempic) is a prescription-only medicine (POM). The Human Medicines Regulations 2012 and the CAP Code state that POM's must not be advertised to the public. Clearly the posts on Instagram did exactly that.
The ASA also objected to the use of a cartoon image of a slim person and the suggestion that the product could be used to prevent cravings in people who were not overweight, labelling that as "irresponsible".
And, finally, because the post claimed that "Average weight loss is 12-20lbs within the first 4 week course" the ASA criticised the advertisers for making specific weight loss claims for a defined period, in breach of CAP Code rule 13.9.
The other weight loss investigations published by the ASA this week also delve into the "irresponsible" nature of these ads. One featured an already-slim glamour model and the other included this commentary from the ASA about the added pressure that COVID-19 and lockdown is having on young women:
People, particularly young women, who were already body conscious because of pre-existing societal pressures (regardless of their actual weight or size, and including those who were of a healthy weight) were likely to have had their concerns about putting on weight heightened by changes to their lifestyle during lockdown, such as prolonged periods of staying at home and experiencing disruption to ordinary diet or exercise routines.
The issue of social responsibility can, admittedly, be a difficult one for brands to assess, particularly when it comes to weight loss products. But there is now a whole catalogue of examples by both the ASA and FTC demonstrating how not to promote slimming products on social media so, with just a bit of research and an understanding of the additional challenges presented by a lockdown society, this industry should be able to evolve. Otherwise it's only your brand's reputation, not your customer's weight, that is being lost.
If you want help unravelling the rules and regulations on disclosure, contact influencer marketing regulatory expert Rupa Shah at Hashtag Ad Consulting.