An outdoor poster for Motivation Weight Management located at a train station, featured an image of a woman sitting on the ground. The image was slightly blurred. The woman had her legs pulled up to her chest. Her arms were folded across her knees and her head was resting downwards on her arms. In the foreground, there was an image sharply in focus of a weighing scales.
The strapline of the poster read:
“IF YOU ARE HAPPY WITH YOUR WEIGHT DON’T CALL US”.
The telephone number, website and locations for the company featured beneath the strapline.
16 complaints were received. A number of issues were raised by complainants.
The advertisement was bullying in content to suggest that a woman who appeared to be perfectly normal in weight should be so distraught at gaining weight that she would take up the position indicated in the advertisement.
The depiction of the woman was excessively unkind. It was an appalling example of stigma, shame and bias of a clearly normal weight person and totally offensive to women. It was manipulative and damaging especially to young women.
Some raised the pressures which social media was having in relation to body image and considered that the image featured had the ability to impact on people’s mental health, especially those who were experiencing issues with weight. It depicted mental health in relation to eating disorders and negative body image in a deeply problematic way and could be distressing to anyone seeing the advertisement, particularly those who were vulnerable to eating disorders and pressures around body image. The ad suggested that if a person was not happy with their weight there was something wrong with them. It set an unhealthy precedence for young impressionable people and promoted a negative/unhealthy message of body standards. The visual message linked mental distress and dieting, implied that a slim build body was problematic and the complainant considered that it suggested it would be normal to have mental distress about a person’s body if it looked as portrayed in the image. With so many young female and male suicides recently the complainants considered that the advertisement was dangerous.
To suggest that the person was distressed because she needed to lose weight was irresponsible, given that eating orders were a common affliction, especially among women. The ad was socially irresponsible and targeted women.
A common theme of most complaints was that the woman featured in the advertisement appeared to be of normal weight.
The advertisers said that the purpose of the advertisement had been to draw attention to the weight management services which they provided. It had never been their intention to suggest that persons of a normal weight needed to be thin.
They said to avoid any further issues or cause for complaint the poster would be removed within days as soon as their advertising agency had a new advertisement to replace it with. They said the location of the advertisement referenced by the complainants was the only location which the advertisement had been placed.
The advertisers said that the original idea for the poster was based on feedback from their clients’ over the years who had asked them to demonstrate before and after pictures of someone who had 7-10lbs in weight to lose.
When preparing the design for the poster they had used the services of an external image agency. The key criteria of the image was to be a weighing scales if possible, with an opaque image of a person with a small amount of excess weight to lose. The person was requested to be in their 30s/40s and frustrated with the number indicated to them on the weighing scales.
In response to a request from the ASAI Executive, the advertisers said they were unable to supply the weight details of the person featured in the poster as the stock image had not been supplied to them with such details.
The advertisers reiterated that the intended main focus of their advertisement had been the weighing scales, as this was the number one reason people quit their diets. The main focus, therefore, of their clinic was to take the emphasis off the scales to help avoid leaving people frustrated when they did not see the results which they were looking for. They preferred to help their clients’ by putting the emphasis on small gradual changes in their behaviour and the way in which they thought and felt about themselves. They said they believed it was more important to put the emphasis on one’s behaviour, i.e. one’s mental weight (habits, motivation, stress level, self-image and emotions).
In conclusion, the advertisers said that even with their intended marketing message, they now realised that the image used in the poster was subjective. They said the opaqueness of the image left it open to interpretation and this was a fact that they had failed to recognise in the preparation of the marketing communication. They said the poster in question had now been removed and that they would seek copy advice for future advertising.
Complaints Upheld in Part
The Complaints Committee considered the detail of the complaints and the advertisers’ response.
The Committee noted that the intention to have the poster removed within days as and soon their advertising agency had a new replacement advertisement.
Issue 1 – Not Upheld
While the Committee considered that the advertised content was intended to influence consumer behaviour, they did not consider that the depiction of the woman in the advertisement constituted nor portrayed bullying. They did not consider that this aspect of the complaint was in breach of the Code.
Issue 2 – Upheld
The Committee noted that the advertisement had depicted a female, who appeared to have a proportionate and normal body shape, in a distressed state because of a reading provided on a weighing scales. They noted that the Code provided that marketing communications should be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society and should not suggest that persons of normal weight need to slim. They considered that that content was in breach of Code Sections 3.3 and 12.8.
Issue 3 – Upheld
The Committee considered that by posing the question of a person’s subjective assessment of their mood implied that mood was a means to evaluate both body weight and the potential identifier of a need for weight loss. They also considered that the advertisement suggested a direct association between a person’s mood both before and after weighing themselves. The Committee also considered that the advertisement indicated that a subjectively unsatisfactory body weight reading could have a negative impact on a person’s emotional wellbeing. They noted, however, that there was no reference to objective or medically based criteria for self-evaluation of body weight and satisfactory weight ranges.
The Committee concluded that the marketing communications had not been be prepared with a sufficient sense of responsibility to consumers and to society and was therefore in breach of Code Section 3.3.
Issue 4 – Upheld
The Committee considered that the advertisement had suggested that a person who appeared to have a proportionate and reasonable body shape would be in a distressed state because of the reading provided to them on a weighing scales. The Committee also considered that it was irresponsible for an advertisement to suggest that a person would be in a distressed state due to awareness of their current exact weight. They also considered that the advertisement had caused distress to those who viewed it and that such reactions could have been expected to be experienced by some. Accordingly, they considered it to be in breach of Code sections 3.3 and 3.23.
Issue 5 – Upheld
The Committee noted that the original idea for the poster was based on client feedback to show before and after images of a person who had 7-10lbs in weight to lose.
The Committee noted the Code requirement that marketing communications should not suggest that persons of normal weight needed to slim (12.8). They also noted that the advertisers were unable to provide details on the weight of the person featured in the poster. In the absence of objective evidence on the model’s weight, and taking account of the complainants’ views of the model’s appearance, the Committee considered the advertisement was in breach of the Code and upheld the complaints under Section 12.8 of the Code.
As the advertisement had been removed no further action was required in this case. The Committee reminded advertisers to exercise care when developing marketing communications for slimming services.