Today, we have published the revised Help Note on Cosmetic Interventions which you can view here. It now also includes important sections on the Use of production techniques, Before and After photographs, Responsibility, Targeting, Endorsements and Testimonials, Prescription only medicines (POMs), Botox and Sales Promotions. In this Insight we provide a brief summary of some of the issues which have inspired this revision.

Marketers providing treatments (including cosmetic surgery practitioners who wish to advertise their services) must have relevant and recognised credentials, (CAP Code Rule 12.3 and BCAP Code Rule 11.9).

The general CAP and BCAP Code Rules on harm, offence and social responsibility are applicable to all ads regardless of the sector. The ASA can ban ads where appropriate, or instruct marketers to apply scheduling restrictions on ads that the ASA deems likely to cause harm or that are socially irresponsible, with particular regard to the target audience. For example, the ASA’s rulings on Transform Medical Group (CS) Ltd and My Aesthetics Ltd, 8 May 2013 mean that TV and radio ads for slimming products, treatments or establishments (BCAP rule 32.2.4) must not be broadcast in, or adjacent to programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal particularly to audiences below the age of 18.

The issue of preparing advertising for cosmetic interventions responsibly (CAP Code Rule 1.3 and BCAP Code Rule 1.2) features heavily in a number of ASA rulings, often with respect to the scheduling of ads or sales promotions. By their nature sales promotions will usually be time limited, and although the ASA has ruled that it is not necessarily irresponsible to offer surgery as a gift or a prize, marketers should take particular care when executing and administering sales promotions, especially prize draws or competitions.

In relation to an ad which stated “2 days REMAINING ... Give the “Buy Now” button a cheeky wink before the lids close on today's deal” the ASA noted that respondents who viewed the promotion towards the end of the week might only have a day to decide whether to purchase laser eye surgery. Even though there was a seven day cancellation policy from when the voucher was issued, during which time consumers could research the procedure, the time-limitation was considered to be irresponsible and likely to pressure consumers into making a decision (LivingSocial Ltd, 3 October 2012).

The short response time in another ad which stated “but hurry, offer must end midnight this Friday the 23rd of November” was considered irresponsible because it trivialised the significant decision to have an invasive procedure (Liverpool Cosmetic Surgery Ltd, 20 March 2013). Similarly, the ASA upheld a complaint about a promotional offer made by Groupon because it was emailed to consumers who may not have previously considered surgery and was only available for 24 hours, giving consumers insufficient time to consider the implications of surgery in full before committing (MyCityDeal Ltd, 23 November 2011).

By comparison, the issue in the Optical Express Westfield Ltd ruling of whether the offer of laser eye surgery in a prize draw was irresponsible was not upheld. In this instance, there was a strict consultation process and the prize winner would only receive treatment if, after the consultation, they were deemed suitable. And, in the Hubert Burda Media UK, 7 March 2012 case, the ASA did not uphold the complaint because entrants were given time to consider and evaluate whether the procedure was right for them.

Marketers should also consider the tone of their advertising and not give the impression that procedures should be undertaken lightly. The Sex and the City approach in the Stratford Dermatherapy Clinic ruling was considered to be casual in its manner and therefore trivialised a fat transfer procedure. The ASA also considered that a TV ad by The Hospital Group Ltd, 21 August 2013, which featured a woman saying, “Yes, yes, oh yes, yes...I dropped 10 dress sizes thanks to weight loss surgery...”, was not socially irresponsible because it conveyed a sense of excitement rather than an encouragement to consider gastric band surgery as an easy weight loss option.

Botox treatments are increasingly popular, and as a result the ASA has received a number of complaints which relate specifically to the advertising of Botox. But, Botox is a prescription-only medicine, and the rules in the advertising codes (Rules 12.22 of the CAP Code and 11.21.1 of the BCAP Code) reflect the provisions in the Human Medicines Regulations 2012. These prevent prescription-only medicines and medical treatments from being advertised to the public. A website could make limited references to Botox, provided that those references are presented in the context of a balanced and factual overview of all the treatment options which are available.

The Help Note now sets out clear guidance on prescription only medicines (POM’s) and includes a section dedicated to Botox. You might find our AdviceOnline article on Botox and our recently published Insight Article: Botox on the Brain? useful too. Further information about the advertising and promotion of medicines and PIOM’s specifically can be found in the Blue Guide, also available on the MHRA website.

If you require bespoke advice on your non-broadcast promotions, contact the CAP Copy Advice team on 0207 492 2100 or submit your enquiry via our website. For TV ads contact Clearcast, and for Radio, contact the RACC.


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