A teleshopping infomercial, for an exercise device, featured demonstrations of the product and a voice-over stating, "The Ab Circle Pro - the way to help you get the flat washboard abs and the sexy v shape you've always wanted." On-screen text stated "The complete Ab Circle Pro system includes a reduced calorie diet and regular aerobic exercise".
The voice-over continued, "In fact, with the Ab Circle Pro we are so confident that you'll lose weight that we offer you a no quibble money back guarantee. Best of all, it's fun and easy and takes just minutes a day. Some machines burn fat but won't flatten your abs. But the Ab Circle Pro combines cardio and abs, while its friction-free track uses the momentum of gravity to target your upper, middle, lower abs and obliques, all in one circular motion".
The ad also featured user testimonials which included "before" and "after" photos and on-screen text stating the amount of weight loss, for example "Lost 11lbs within 8 weeks", "Lost 15lbs within 8 weeks", "Lost 12lbs within 6 weeks", "Lost 12lbs within 8 weeks". On-screen text that appeared periodically stated "Can help with weight loss only with a calorie controlled diet".
A viewer challenged whether the claims for weight loss and muscle toning in the abdominal muscles were misleading and could be substantiated.
High Street TV (Group) Ltd (High Street TV) provided their own physiological testing. They said the study concluded that the Ab Circle Pro "increases heart rate, oxygen uptake and estimated energy expenditure in comparison to an abdominal crunch exercise over a similar 5 minute exercise period" and "Ab Circle Pro works more muscle less intensely to provide a core based cardiovascular workout".
They understood that the viewer's concerns had stemmed from learning about a Federal Trade Commission case in the US, which resulted in deceptive advertising charges. They said the original US version of the ad had been edited so as to avoid any exaggerated or misleading claims. The key claims for which the US supplier was criticised had been edited out of the UK version of the ad.
They also provided a table of weight loss results for the individuals who featured in the ad, including their 'before' and 'after' body mass indexes (BMI). They believed all the weight loss claims in the ad complied with the requirements of the Code.
Clearcast said the ad had been approved in accordance with advice and guidance given by their consultant, and provided a copy of the correspondence they had with the consultant. They noted that many fitness products were offered as a package of a diet and exercise programme together with additional items such as charts to indicate foods or types of exercise for a particular week, and that all of the elements of that package would be offered together under one name. They said the package in this case was called "Ab Circle Pro" and that the on-screen text stating "Can help with weight loss only with a calorie controlled diet" visible during the testimonials was intended to emphasise the role of diet in achieving the weight loss. They stated that the Ab Circle Pro device did contribute to weight loss with a calorie-controlled diet and was proven to activate muscles and contribute to energy expenditure, so if viewers followed a diet programme with a reduced number of calories and used the device alongside the workout DVD, they would be able to lose weight as well as tone their muscles.
The ASA noted Clearcast's explanation that the Ab Circle Pro (ACP) machine was only one element of a package sold under the same name, which included a calorie-controlled diet. We considered, however, that that fact was not clear from the ad. The ad repeatedly referred to the ACP as a "machine" which was easy to use and took just minutes each day. It featured images of the machine prominently in both the foreground and background of the shots and included direct comparisons with other forms of exercise such as stomach crunches. Claims such as "With Ab Circle Pro ... all you have to do is hop on your Ab Circle Pro and get your cardio and abs workout all at once" placed the emphasis on the ACP as a machine and did not make clear that it was in fact an entire programme that relied in part on a calorie-controlled diet.
We noted the intermittent presence of on-screen text during the ad which stated "The complete Ab Circle Pro system includes a reduced calorie diet and regular aerobic exercise" and "Can help with weight loss only with a calorie controlled diet", but considered that those references were not sufficient to counteract the impression given by the rest of the ad that ACP was an exercise machine which alone would aid weight loss and muscle toning. We also noted that part way into the ad the voice-over stated "Plus, as a special bonus, we'll send you Jennifer Nicole Lee's complete 'Lose Your Love Handles' system", along with an image of a set of DVDs. We considered that that implied the existence of a wider programme extending beyond the ACP machine itself only as part of a separate package offered for a limited time and under a different name.
For the reasons noted above, we considered that the ad placed the emphasis on the effect of the ACP machine as a method of losing weight and toning muscles. High Street TV therefore needed to demonstrate that those effects were achievable as a direct result of using the machine. We considered the study provided. We noted that it involved six healthy, active male participants and was a cross-over design in which each participant completed the two test conditions: five minutes on the Ab Circle Pro machine and five minutes of stomach crunches. The rate of movement was controlled so that 150 crunches were compared with 150 ACP movements over the five minute period. Four variables were measured: muscle activation, heart rate, oxygen uptake and rating of perceived exertion.
We noted the results showed that mean heart rate and the rate of heart increase were higher when exercising on the ACP compared to when doing crunches. We also noted that mean oxygen uptake was higher when exercising on the ACP compared to when doing crunches. Muscle activity was higher when using the ACP compared to when doing crunches in relation to some of the muscle groups tested, but not others. Furthermore, the rating of perceived exertion was marginally higher for the stomach crunches than the ACP.
Although some positive results were reported, we noted the study was a pilot study with a small number of participants. We noted the study stated "It should be noted that the current study design proposal be treated as a pilot with subject numbers being minimal. For academic peer reviewed literature it is likely that subject numbers would need to be increased to possibly 12-14 and indeed this would increase the likelihood of obtaining statistically significant values" and concluded "Further research would be useful on a larger cohort to establish significant differences". Furthermore, the study measured only the short-term physiological effects of the ACP and did not measure weight loss or muscle toning.
We noted the table of testimonial weight loss summaries provided by High Street TV, but considered that was insufficient to substantiate the weight loss and muscle toning claims in the ad since it was not clear whether any weight loss was attributable to the ACP machine or other methods, including following a calorie-controlled diet.
We considered the advice provided by Clearcast's expert. We noted that he had been asked whether the study supported a number of claims, none of which related to weight loss or muscle toning. We also noted he had concerns that it was a pilot study with a small study group which was not necessarily representative.
For those reasons, we considered that consumers would understand the claims for weight loss and muscle toning to relate to use of the ACP machine, and that the evidence supplied was insufficient to support those claims. We therefore concluded that they were misleading.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.9 3.9 Broadcasters must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that the audience is likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation) and 3.12 3.12 Advertisements must not mislead by exaggerating the capability or performance of a product or service. (Exaggeration).
The ad must not be broadcast again in its current form. We told High Street TV to ensure that in future they did not make weight loss or muscle toning claims for the product without holding adequate substantiation for those claims.