Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, one of which was Upheld. The other was informally resolved after the advertiser agreed to amend their advertising. The second complaint related only to the informally-resolved issue.
A TV ad for Slendertone, a toning belt, seen in January and February 2019. A voice-over stated, “Meet Slendertone, your personal body toner, who firms and tones your abs, helps shape your waistline and easily fits in with your lifestyle. Clinically proven with results from four weeks. Look and feel amazing.”
IssueThe complainant challenged whether the efficacy claims for the product were misleading and could be substantiated.
Bio-Medical Research Ltd t/a Slendertone believed the claims in the ad were relatively modest. They said they did not make weight loss claims, only claims to firm and tone. They said they qualified the claim to “shape” the waistline with the word “helps”, which also linked to the fact that the actors were shown pursuing a healthy lifestyle, reinforcing the message that the device would help to shape the waistline as part of such a lifestyle. They said the ad did not imply that the device could overcome the effects of an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise. Slendertone said the claim to fit in easily with one’s lifestyle was shown by the actress using the device while relaxing at home. They said the claim for clinically proven with results from four weeks was consistent with a number of studies they provided. Slendertone believed the documents should be taken together as a whole body of evidence to substantiate the modest claims made in the ad, and noted that the evidence included studies published in peer-reviewed journals. They stated that they had withdrawn the ad pending the outcome of the investigation.
Clearcast said, during the pre-production stage, they had worked very closely with the advertiser to ensure that the product was marketed responsibly and the story being told was that of simple toning. They did not believe the ad was telling a slimming or weight loss story. They said the claim “Firms and tones your abs, helps shape your waistline, and easily fits in with your lifestyle“ was further qualified in the ad with the on-screen text: “Clinically proven to improve abdominal strength, shape and body satisfaction from 4 weeks … *Clinical Trial, Department of Exercise and Sports Science, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Porcari, 2005”. The “from 4 weeks” element had been a part of Slendertone’s campaigns for the product since initial clearance from them in 2013. They said the study showed that significant improvements were seen in abdominal strength, endurance, body satisfaction and shape evaluation in both males and females at the four-week stage.
The ASA noted the claims “your personal body toner”, “firms and tones your abs, helps shape your waistline” and “Clinically proven with results from four weeks”. We considered that viewers would understand from those claims that the product was able to affect the size of the waist by visibly firming and toning the abdominal muscles, and that users would see effects within four weeks. Slendertone provided four studies and an abstract from a scientific conference. We took expert advice on the evidence. The abstract was for a small, uncontrolled preliminary study. One study was unpublished and involved only women (whereas the ad featured men and women). Another study, again in women only, showed some improvements in subjective assessments of body appearance, but no statistically significant difference in objective measurements to indicate a benefit deriving from the product.
A third study reported improvements in participant perception of appearance but did not use an active control and there were other concerns over the methodology used and assessment of the results. We therefore considered those pieces of evidence were of less relevance to supporting the claims made in the ad. Furthermore, while Slendertone has provided a body of evidence, they indicated that they primarily wished to rely on the fourth full study, assessed in detail below. A study involving 53 men and women divided into low- and high-intensity NMES groups measured effects on abdominal strength and endurance, core strength, abdominal girth, and perceived body shape and satisfaction. The design was an improvement on previous studies carried out by the manufacturer in terms of participant group size and use of plausible control. However, details of standardisation of breathing during measurements were not provided. Furthermore, no power calculation was provided, training was not supervised and adherence data was not presented.
The results indicated no significant changes in body weight, BMI, abdomen circumference or waist circumference between the groups. A significant improvement in abdominal strength was reported, though there was no interaction between groups for prone plank score. The high intensity group reported greater perceived firmness and strength. However, some subjective results, such as body satisfaction, also showed increases in the control group despite the stimulation being set at an intensity below that sufficient to elicit a muscular contraction, suggesting a placebo effect. Overall, only one controlled study observed a significant between-group difference for an objective measurement (abdominal strength). We noted there were other methodological concerns with that study, and in any case, results relating to strength were unlikely to be of relevance to the claims under investigation in the absence of robust results objectively measuring reductions in body size. Although we acknowledged that the studies showed some improvements in participants’ perception of their bodies, within the context of the overall body of evidence that was not sufficient to support claims of efficacy. We concluded that the impression given by the ad, that the product was able to affect the size of the waist by visibly firming and toning the abdominal muscles, had not been substantiated and that the ad was therefore 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 appear again in the same form. We told Bio-Medical Research Ltd t/a Slendertone not to state or imply that the product was able to affect the size of the waist by visibly firming and toning the abdominal muscles, unless they held adequate evidence to substantiate their claims.