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.

The Copy Advice team has been asked to give advice on ads for stomach stapling, liposuction, liposculpture, laser lipolysis, focused ultrasound and other weight control procedures such as inter-gastric balloons. The latter seems to be a balloon, swallowed by the patient, which is filled with fluid to inflate it. The patient then apparently feels full and voluntarily restricts his or her calorific intake, thereby losing weight.

The ASA upheld a complaint for i-Lipo, a non-invasive procedure because it had not seen suitable evidence which showed that the treatment could reduce fat and improve the appearance of cellulite, both of which were considered to be breakthrough claims (The Contour Clinic, 21 August 2013). See Weight control: Cellulite.

One marketer stated “Treating fat and cellulite just got easy with Proshock. Want to lose inches with no down time...For all your problem bulges, flab, dimples...Fast Action guaranteed...Non surgical groundbreaking technology that destroys fat cells fast.” In this case, the ASA consulted an expert and understood that the study held by the advertiser was uncontrolled, non-blinded and that the testing methodology was unclear, and therefore considered that it had not seen sufficient evidence to support the breakthrough claims in the ad. Moreover, while the before and after photos in the ad were found to feature genuine test subjects who had undergone the treatment under the test conditions applied in the study, the ASA considered that the pictures were unlikely to accurately represent what consumers could achieve from the treatment, given that sufficient evidence was not held in the first instance (Lamphall Ltd, 11 December 2013).

An ad for Vaser Liposuction stated, “The incisions are tiny, the fat gets sucked out and you recover within hours…I spent months trying to shift this in the gym and it was done in two hours…Had my breasts done at MYA, loved them, so had no second thoughts about going back to them for vaser… what would you Vaser?”. In this case, the ASA noted the consultation process and cooling off period, however it considered that the ad suggested that a decision to undergo the procedure was a quick and simple, with minimal invasiveness and faster recovery time compared with traditional liposuction. The overall impression of the ad was found to trivialise cosmetic surgery by not making clear that Vaser Liposuction was a procedure that might carry some of the same risks as traditional liposuction (MYA Cosmetic Surgery Ltd, 3 September 2014). See Cosmetic Interventions: social responsibility.

CAP and the ASA regard the use of before and after photos in the same way as testimonials. Marketers should therefore ensure that they meet the requirements of rules 3.45 to 3.48 and 13.1 of the CAP Code, and note that testimonials which are not supported by trials do not constitute adequate substantiation. They should hold signed and dated proof that the photos are genuine and have not been manipulated (EF Medispa, 20 February 2013). See Weight control:Testimonials and Before and After Photos.

Liposculpture or liposuction is an invasive surgical procedure that involves sucking fat out of the body to shape the figure. Marketers should not describe the procedure as “safe”, “painless”, “permanent”, “scar free” or an “alternative to exercise”. A procedure which requires a surgical incision, should not be described as a “non surgical” procedure (The Norton Clinic Ltd, 5 March 2008). See Beauty and Cosmetics: "Non-surgical" and "surgical" type claims.

Rule 13.9 stipulates that marketers should not claim that weight can be lost from specific parts of body. In 2012 the ASA upheld a complaint for Non-surgical Ultrasonic Liposuction where the marketer claimed that inches could be lost from the “Stomach, Back, Hips, Legs & Arms" and that losing weight was easy, especially from “stubborn fatty areas like your belly, hips, arms and legs" The ASA upheld the complaint because it is unacceptable to claim that people can lose a precise amounts of weight within a stated period, or that weight or fat can be lost from specific parts of the body, except through invasive procedures. Moreover, claims such as, "The frequency of the sound wave targets fat cells, causing them to turn into a liquefied state" and "Our treatments...get to work on your unwanted fat cells” were considered objective slimming claims. Because the advertiser had been unable to prove the claims, the ASA instructed the advertiser not to repeat them (The Slimline Clinic, 17 October 2012).

CAP has no objection to proven procedures being advertised as long as the procedures are carried out under suitably qualified supervision. More information can be found on Marketers should nevertheless hold evidence in the form of clinical trials, to support efficacy claims.

Marketers should not state or imply that a device is medically certified if it is not (Advanced Esthetics Solutions Ltd, 13 November 2013).

The ASA considers that a No.1 claim is likely to be interpreted as a best-selling claim, unless the context of the ad makes it clear otherwise. In one case, a complaint about the claim, “Lipofirm Plus Europe's No 1” was upheld because the advertiser was unable to provide evidence that Lipofirm Plus was the best-selling device of its kind in Europe (Advanced Esthetics Solutions Ltd, 13 November 2013). See Types of claim: No.1

Marketers should encourage consumers to take independent medical advice before committing themselves to significant treatments, including those that are physically invasive (Rule 12.3).

See Weight control: General and other “Weight Control” entries

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