Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
Laser In-situ Keratomileusis (LASIK) is a laser eye treatment that involves the re-shaping of the cornea for astigmatism (whereby the eye has a distorted shape causing blurred vision at all distances), short-sightedness and long-sightedness, and is one of the main types of laser eye surgery.
The success of LASIK as a treatment for eyesight problems depends on the thickness of each patient’s cornea. Although it can improve some cases of astigmatism, long-sightedness and short-sightedness within a broad range of prescriptions from -12 to +6 dioptres, LASIK is not guaranteed to provide a permanent solution to all eyesight problems and has not been proven as an effective treatment for conditions with more severe prescriptions (for example, – 13 dioptres or more) that would require patients to have exceptionally thick corneas to allow enough thickness to be left behind after treatment. Some LASIK patients will still have to wear glasses or contact lenses after treatment and presbyopia (the eye becoming gradually long-sighted as a result of ageing) will invariably mean that patients will need glasses in their middle age.
Side effects, risks and recovery time
Marketers should not state or imply that the procedure is permanent, suitable for all patients or all types of eye problems, that it is always successful or that the patient will never need glasses or contact lenses. For example, the ASA ruled against claims such as “Throw away your glasses or contact lenses. For good” and “solution for short sight, long sight and astigmatism” (Boots Opticians, 6 February 2002, and Optimax Laser Eye Clinics, 30 October 2002 and 3 March 2004). Moreover, in one case the ASA noted that the complainant had interpreted the phrase “no more glasses and lenses in your life” to mean “no more glasses in your lifetime". However, the ASA considered that the claim would be understood by the majority of consumers to mean that those who underwent the procedure would immediately be able to stop using vision aids, and so the complaint was not upheld (Optimax Laser Eye Clinics, 18 December 2013). Marketers may claim the procedure “corrects” but not “cures” patients’ sight.
Marketers should not imply that recovery from laser eye surgery will be immediate. In 2012, the ASA investigated claims that “Your vision could be immediately improved with full recovery measured in hours not days - in fact you could be back at work the next day...” The ASA noted the results of the patient survey in which most patients reported their eyes were functioning normally on the same day as surgery or the following day. Because the claim was preceded by the word "could", the ASA considered customers would not assume that recovery was immediate in every case (Optimax Laser Eye Clinics, 15 February 2012).
In the same month, the ASA ruled on a brochure for “Ultra-Elite treatment” which stated, "Corrects the most minute imperfections” because it considered consumers were likely to infer, wrongly, that the treatment would rectify even the smallest imperfection. The ASA concluded that the claim exaggerated the capabilities of the treatment (Ultralase Ltd, 22 February 2012).
The Copy Advice team advises marketers against claims that laser surgery is completely safe or free from side effects: all medical procedures have some, albeit sometimes small, risk. CAP accepts that laser eye surgery is a day procedure, even though it often requires a short recovery period.
Marketers should ensure that ads do nothing to exploit consumer’s insecurities. In 2018, the ASA considered whether a television ad for Optical Express suggested that wearing glasses was ugly and unattractive. Ultimately, because the ad made clear that the claims made were the personal views of the customers in the ad, the ASA considered the ad fell on the right side of the line, and therefore was not a breach of the Code (Optical Express, 7 March 2018).
Marketers should allow consumers a reasonable period of time to consider committing to significant surgical procedures and should be very careful when using time-limited promotions to advertise surgery. Although the ASA has ruled that it is not necessarily irresponsible to offer eye surgery as a gift or a prize, the promotion otherwise should be responsible. One promotion stated, “2 days REMAINING ... Give the 'Buy Now' button a cheeky wink before the lids close on today's deal". The ASA noted the advertiser’s assertion that consumers would be aware that a cancellation policy existed but noted that respondents who viewed the promotion towards the end of the week might only have a day to decide whether to purchase the deal. Even though there was a seven day cancellation policy from when the voucher was issued, during which time consumers could research the procedure, the ASA considered that the time-limit was irresponsible and likely to pressure consumers into making a decision to purchase laser eye surgery (LivingSocial Ltd, 3 October 2012).
By comparison, in another case, the issue of whether the offer of laser eye surgery in a prize draw was irresponsible was not upheld because there was a strict consultation process and the prize winner would only receive treatment if, after the consultation, they were deemed suitable (Optical Express Westfield Ltd, 24 July 2013). See also Cosmetic Interventions: social responsibility
Marketers should be careful when making claims about how advanced or innovative their procedures are. In January 2002, the ASA ruled that, although the technology was sophisticated, it was untrue for the advertiser to state or imply that no more advanced, accurate or safer treatment existed in the UK. The marketer did not prove that its laser produced a smoother corneal surface and better visual result than all other excimer lasers (a pulsating beam of ultraviolet light that vaporises corneal tissue to the depth and area required for vision correction) (Boots Opticians, 16 January 2002). In 2012, another advertiser made a similar mistake in claiming “The most advanced Wavefront technology” (Ultralase Ltd, 22 February 2012). Marketers should remember that if they make comparative claims, they need to hold comparative evidence and ensure this is verifiable. Absolute claims, such as the one made by Ultralase, need to be supported by robust documentary evidence.