Botulinum toxin is a ‘Prescription-Only Medicine’ (POM), which means there are specific rules on how and where you can advertise services that offer this. As rule 12.12 says:
“Prescription-only medicines or prescription-only medical treatments may not be advertised to the public.”
The recent Enforcement Notice from our Compliance team earlier this month has resulted in lots of questions to our Copy Advice team, so we thought we’d share the answers to some of the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’.
HAVE YOU CHANGED THE RULES?
No, the rules around ‘prescription-only medicines’ and rule 12.12 (above) in particular, have been in force for some time and are based on legislation.
IS THIS JUST ABOUT BOTOX, OR ANY OTHER BRANDS?
The rule applies to all ‘prescription-only’ botulinum toxin injectables, which includes Botox and other brands such as Vistabel, Azzalure, Bocouture and Dysport. In fact, it applies to all ‘prescription-only medicines’, not just botulinum toxin. For ease, we’ll mostly be using “Botox” as short-hand for all ‘prescription-only’ botulinum toxin injectables.
DOES THIS ENFORCEMENT NOTICE OR GUIDANCE APPLY ONLY TO SOCIAL MEDIA?
No, rule 12.12 applies to all marketing material and advertising including posters, leaflets, newspaper & magazine ads and even your own website (though there are some small exceptions here, see below).
CAN I REFER TO BOTOX ON MY WEBSITE?
Yes, in very narrow circumstances. The key principles are that you need to make very clear that you are advertising the “consultation” rather than Botox, it shouldn’t be easy for a potential client to stumble upon information about a ‘prescription-only medicine’ and any references should be incidental, balanced and factual.
For example, you could include references to a “wrinkle treatment consultation” or similar on your homepage and, when clicked, the copy should emphasise that you offer a consultation with a variety of treatment options (assuming that’s true, of course). It will always depend on the execution but provided you properly emphasise the consultation, make incidental, balanced and factual references to Botox as a possible treatment option and it is clear that the consultation may or may not lead to the provision of Botox, the ASA might consider it acceptable. You could also go one step further and require a click through to the treatment options, where you make only balanced and factual references to Botox, or a price list with an incidental reference to Botox alongside its price.
Take care not to give the Botox references any prominence and keep all information factual rather than promotional – claims like “Gives you beautifully smooth skin” and “The injections do not hurt at all” are unlikely to be considered purely “factual information”.
CAN I MENTION BOTOX IN A PRICE LIST?
Provided it’s genuinely only a ‘price list’ with no other information or promotional content (which might make it an advertising leaflet instead) and it isn’t posted on your social media, mailed to prospective customers or placed in any paid-for advertising space, it’s potentially OK to refer to Botox (and it’s unlikely that the material would fall within the scope of the Code that the ASA enforces).
If it’s on your website, it depends. If you mention the price on the homepage or include a direct link to “Prices” which mentions Botox, this is unlikely to be acceptable. However, if clients can only get to the price list after going through a page promoting a consultation (as above), then this might be acceptable.
CAN I ADVERTISE A PRICE PROMOTION FOR BOTOX (SUCH AS ‘20% OFF’ OR ‘BUY TWO AREAS GET ONE FREE’)?
No, this is likely to breach the Code. As you can’t advertise ‘prescription-only’ treatments like Botox to the public at all and this would be a very direct advertisement for Botox, even if you didn’t mention it specifically – this wouldn’t be acceptable.
Even on your own website, as “price promotions” (such as money off, time limited offers, Refer a Friend etc.) are unlikely to be considered purely factual information and the focus of the promotion is on the product, rather than a consultation, this is unlikely be acceptable.
CAN I SAY “ANTI-WRINKLE INJECTIONS”?
If you offer both ‘prescription-only’ treatments like Botox and also ‘non-prescription-only’ treatments like fillers, this might be acceptable – but, you must ensure that nothing else in the ad implies that the term “injections” refers exclusively to Botox.
As an example, if you say you offer “anti-wrinkle injections and fillers”, this suggests that the “injections” is referring to Botox. We’d therefore recommend referring to “anti-wrinkle injections” or “anti-wrinkle treatments” as a collective term for both the ‘prescription-only’ and ‘non-prescription-only’ treatments.
If you only offer ‘prescription-only’ treatments, we’d advise against “Anti-wrinkle injections”, as it’s likely to be seen as an implied ad for a ‘prescription-only medicine’.
CAN I SAY “WRINKLE RELAXING INJECTIONS”?
No, we’d advise against it. Even if you sell both ‘prescription-only’ treatments like Botox and also ‘non-prescription-only’ treatments like fillers, the word “relaxing” is likely to be understood as an implied reference to Botox.
If you only offer ‘non-prescription-only’ treatments, as long as those treatments do actually “relax” wrinkles and not just fill the lines or improve the appearance of the skin (and you have actual evidence to prove this) it might be acceptable to use this claim in those circumstances.
CAN I USE ‘BEFORE AND AFTER’ IMAGES?
If you only offer prescription-only treatments or the image shows the ‘before and after’ of a client who has received Botox, then it’s unlikely, as it will be seen as an ad for the prescription-only treatment.
If you offer both prescription-only treatments like Botox and also non-prescription only treatments like fillers, you are able to include images if they show someone who has received a non-prescription only treatment – however, make sure you’re explicit the photos relate to the non-prescription only treatment.
It’s unlikely to be acceptable to show a ‘before and after’ image of a client who has received Botox and falsely claim that they received a non-prescription only treatment because this is likely to be seen as materially misleading.
You should also make sure you have signed and dated proof that the photos are genuine, and representative of what can be achieved as detailed in our guidance.
WHAT ABOUT TREATING HYPERHIDROSIS?
The rule is exactly the same whether you’re claiming to treat wrinkles or hyperhidrosis – you can’t advertise this to public and you need to take case on your website, in line with our guidance.
DO I HAVE TO REMOVE ALL OF MY POSTS?
Our Compliance team are largely focused on ensuring that marketers to make a change going forward, after they issued the Enforcement Notice, but ideally you should remove or amend any problematic posts that are current and easily visible without scrolling back very far.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF I MISS A POST OR DON’T COMPLY?
If a complaint is received, the ASA are likely to refer this to our Compliance team. If the Compliance team locates problematic posts during its enforcement action, they’ll be working with social media platforms to get offending posts removed. If it’s the case that the rules are being repeatedly and deliberately flouted, they might involve the MHRA or your professional regulatory body.
If you have a query that we haven’t covered, please do feel free to contact the Copy Advice team for further guidance.
- Beauty products, grooming and hygiene
- Medicines, remedies and therapies
- Online, catch-up TV and radio, in-app and in-game
- Poster and other out of home
- Newspapers, magazines and printed materials