Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both were Upheld.
An ad on my.yahoo.com contained an image of a woman holding her head over a toilet bowl. Bold text below stated "3 Foods to NEVER eat". Smaller text positioned below stated "Beware of these foods that you think are "healthy" but are actually terrible for your health and may be responsible for making you gain abdominal fat." A link in the bottom right-hand corner stated "Watch Shocking Video" and text below stated "EatHealthySecrets.com".
The complainant challenged whether:
1. the image was offensive; and
2. the ad would have a harmful effect on those with eating disorders.
1. & 2. Business Marketing Solutions Group Inc, trading as Eat Healthy Secrets (EHS), stated they had removed the ad.
They said they understood how an emotional issue could be triggered by certain words or images, but felt that an emotional condition could be triggered by anything, including a single word, a song or a memory. They pointed out that the Code stated, under rule 4.1, "The fact that a product is offensive to some people is not grounds for finding a marketing communication in breach of the Code". They said the intention of the ad was to feature a woman feeling unwell after eating certain junk and processed foods, which were terrible for people's health and they maintained could even cause life threatening diseases when eaten on a regular basis. They said it had never been the intent of the ad to condone or encourage any unsafe practice or offend any users. Their advertising campaign was intended to encourage users to eat healthier foods to improve their lives. They said the campaign was based on being responsible to consumers and society by educating consumers about foods that they thought were healthy, but which were not. They added they had been inspired to create the campaign through personal experience and medical advice about eating habits. They said they also considered it important to encourage healthy eating in children.
They considered that neither the ad, website or product condoned an extreme method for losing weight, such as vomiting after a meal or a particular food, and felt the message was the opposite, namely to condone healthy eating on a regular basis.
1. & 2. Yahoo! UK Ltd said the ad was booked by EHS with Yahoo! Inc through the Yahoo! U.S. Sales Team and the ad ran on yahoo.com but was targeted at users in the UK. They suspected, on the basis of the text that accompanied the image, that the advertisers' intention was to feature an image of a woman being unwell after eating unhealthy food, not an image of a woman with an eating disorder. On that basis, they disputed that it was intended to condone or encourage an unsafe practice. However, they did accept that the image could be perceived differently, and that it could cause offence to some consumers, but they disputed that the image was sufficiently clear or visually distressing to cause serious or widespread offence. They added that although they disputed that the ad had breached the CAP Code, they said it was in breach of Yahoo! policy. They said they had therefore withdrawn the ad.
We understood that EHS promoted diets and healthy eating. We noted that the ad referred to avoiding eating particular foods, without providing further detail, and stated that people should "Beware of these foods that ... may be responsible for making you gain abdominal fat". We therefore considered, in the context of an ad which made reference to particular eating habits and weight gain, that some readers would infer from the image of the woman holding her head over the toilet bowl, that she was vomiting because she was suffering from an eating disorder, rather than inferring that she had food poisoning or was vomiting because she had had a reaction to a particular foodstuff. We also noted that the ad stated "Watch Shocking Video", which we considered could further suggest that the woman was vomiting due to an eating disorder. Because of that we concluded that the image was likely to cause serious offence.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.
Marketing communications must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age. Compliance will be judged on the context, medium, audience, product and prevailing standards.
Marketing communications may be distasteful without necessarily breaching this rule. Marketers are urged to consider public sensitivities before using potentially offensive material.
The fact that a product is offensive to some people is not grounds for finding a marketing communication in breach of the Code. and 4.5 4.5 Marketing communications, especially those addressed to or depicting a child, must not condone or encourage an unsafe practice (see Section 5: Children). (Harm and offence).
We noted that the ad implied that people should beware of the food they ate and combined that information with an image which we considered some readers would be likely to associate with an eating disorder. We therefore considered that some consumers, and particularly vulnerable people, might consider that the ad went beyond supporting general healthy eating, and went so far as to condone or suggest some support for extreme methods for losing weight, such as vomiting after a meal or a particular food. We therefore concluded that the ad would have a harmful effect, particularly on those with eating disorders.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 1.3 Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society. (Responsible advertising) and 4.5 4.5 Marketing communications, especially those addressed to or depicting a child, must not condone or encourage an unsafe practice (see Section 5: Children). (Harm and offence).
The ad must not appear again in its current form.