A competition in Love It! magazine, in October 2011 was titled "FREE TUMMY TUCK FOR ONE OF OUR LUCKY READERS!". Below this, text stated "IT'S WEEK TWO OF OUR MONTH-LONG PLASTIC SURGERY GIVEAWAY * SAY GOODBYE TO YOUR SAGGY STOMACH WITH A TUMMY TUCK". Smaller text below then stated "We know you have body issues. Bits you'd like to nip, tuck, increase, reduce....Well this is your chance... Perhaps you've managed to lose an amazing amount of weight, but it's left you with saggy skin that no amount of exercise can tighten up. Or maybe having kids has given you a bulging belly that dieting just won't budge. Whatever your reasons, we can help you get a flatter, tighter tummy". Further text explained that readers who texted with the correct answer to a question would then be asked a range of questions to assess their suitability for surgery and to explain why they wanted to have the surgery. A shortlist of entrants would then be chosen by "top medical professionals" and Love It! readers would be given the opportunity to vote for the entrant they felt most deserved the surgery. The competition also explained that the first 200 entrants who correctly answered the question also secured a 20% discount on standard package prices for future surgery at McIndoe Centre during the next three months and stated, ”So why not change your life forever? The body of your dreams could be just one text away!"
Under the subheading "Plastic surgeon John Pereira from McIndoe Surgical Centre tells you everything you need to know before going under the knife ..." was the text "A tummy tuck or abdominoplasty is a commonly performed procedure ... It's often asked for by women who've completed their families and, despite diet and exercise, their tummy has stayed stretched and loose after having their children. Sometimes the tummy muscles have been stretched, too, and don't return to normal after exercise, leaving a 'still pregnant' look. Others decide they want surgery after dramatic weight loss has left them with hanging and unsightly skin. I also see people with puckered lower tummy scars that can be improved during a tummy tuck ... All my patients are pleasantly surprised at how straightforward their recovery can be".
Text in the terms and conditions of the competition stated "OPEN TO UK READERS AGED 18 OR OVER. APPLICANTS ARE REQUIRED TO FILL OUT AN APPLICATION ON THE WEBSITE AND MUST PASS FIVE GENERAL HEALTH QUESTIONS BEFORE BEING ACCEPTED FOR SELECTION, ONE OF WHICH IS APPLICANTS MUST NOT BE PREGNANT. FAILURE TO PASS ALL FIVE HEALTH QUESTIONS WILL RESULT IN A REFUND ... THE AVIA TV TEAM WILL ASSESS WHAT TYPE OF PATIENT IS REQUIRED. THIS WILL BE BASED ON THE INFORMATION REQUIRED BY THE CHANNEL, OR REQUESTED BY ITS MEMBERS. WITHIN THIS CRITERIA, A RANDOM SELECTION WILL BE MADE, CREATING A MINIMUM SHORTLIST OF 30 PEOPLE. WITHIN SIX WEEKS OF REGISTRATION, APPLICANTS WILL BE CONTACTED BY TEXT AND FOLLOWED UP BY A PHONE CALL FOR AN INITIAL ASSESSMENT REGARDING THEIR SUITABILITY. THE PROCESS WILL BE REPEATED UNTIL A MINIMUM OF SIX PEOPLE HAVE BEEN CHOSEN TO PROGRESS TO THE FINAL SELECTION PROCESS. Love it! READERS WILL VOTE FOR WHO THEY BELIEVE MOST DESERVES THE SURGERY. THE FINAL SELECTION PROCESS WILL INCLUDE A MEDICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSESSMENT. ANYBODY WHO IS FOUND UNSUITABLE ON MEDICAL GROUNDS WILL BE REJECTED AT THIS STAGE...THE SUCCESSFUL APPLICANT WILL THEN ATTEND A MEDICAL CONSULTATION TO DISCUSS THEIR CHOSEN TREATMENT WITH THE SURGEON. THE SURGEONS WILL EVALUATE WITH THE APPLICANT THE TREATMENT THEY HAVE NOMINATED AND WILL MAKE A MEDICAL ASSESSMENT AS TO WHETHER THE TREATMENT IS SUITABLE FOR THEM. THIS WILL BE DISCUSSED JOINTLY. BUT IF A TREATMENT IS SEEN TO BE UNSUITABLE ON MEDICAL GROUNDS, THE SURGEON'S DECISION IS FINAL".
The complainant challenged whether the competition was irresponsible as it promoted an irresponsible attitude to cosmetic surgery.
Hubert Burdia Media UK Ltd said that Love It! Magazine sold 200,000 copies per week. They said the type of plastic surgery came with appropriate counselling, consultation and advice and that plastic surgery was something that many people felt would improve their lifestyle.
The McIndoe Surgical Centre (McIndoe) said that the promotion was run with Love It! Magazine in conjunction with Avia-tv, a production company launched by them in November 2010 to produce information for people considering plastic surgery or cosmetic procedures. They said that the promotion was run with Love It! magazine with an agreement that any articles published would contain information to help people make decisions about treatments, held within a real life patient journey. McIndoe felt that they were being socially responsible and said that education gave potential patients the information they needed to make informed choices.
With regards to specific safeguards to individuals taking part, Avia-tv said they had implemented a small administration fee so people would think twice before texting (this fee was used in administration of the service, no profit was made and no fees for surgery were taken by the hospital, surgeon or anaesthetist). In addition, the promotions was restricted to over 18s, included health exclusions in the initial questions, ensured that applicants were selected by experienced surgeons and ensured that telephone interviews and an e-mail questionnaire would be part of the selection process. Avia-tv also made printed information available to participants, conducted a media interview to confirm suitability and support for the selected applicants and held face-to-face interviews and examinations, which were conducted by the operating surgeon to select physically and psychologically appropriate individuals. McIndoe said that a two-week cooling-off period was the reputable industry standard to protect patients from pressure selling and unscrupulous surgeons/clinics. They said that their cooling-off period was much longer as potential candidates had already seen the surgeon, received written confirmation on their possible operation and would have had full consultations when finally selected. Even at that point, they would have had the right to decline an operation and could walk away from the process at any time.
McIndoe said they were not promoting plastic surgery and were just trying to provide clear information about the four most popular procedures to equip people to make informed decisions about surgery. They said they had received numerous applications for consideration, numerous positive comments from patients in clinics who had seen the articles and only this one complaint from many hundreds of thousands who had seen the article.
Both Hubert Burda Media and McIndoe said that they did not consider this to be a competition but a "selection process" and a "giveaway" which had different meanings and connotations than the word "competition".
The ASA noted that Hubert Burda Media and McIndoe considered that this was not a competition but a "selection process" and a "giveaway", however we considered that it was a competition as entrants had to text a number and answer a qualifying question, which relied upon a degree of knowledge, before they could take part. Entrants were also invited to explain why free surgery would mean so much to them.
We noted the complainant's concerns that they considered the competition to be socially irresponsible and we understood that some readers might consider that winning plastic surgery in a magazine competition was distasteful. However, we also noted Avia-tv's response that the selection process was strictly enforced and gave enough time for the implications of plastic surgery to be considered by readers. We noted that the issue of Love It! magazine, where the competition appeared was on sale from 6 October and the closing date to register interest in the competition was on 19 October, giving readers a maximum of nearly two weeks to consider whether they wanted to put themselves forward for the chance to win the surgical procedure. We also noted that anyone selected after this date had to then fill out a questionnaire to further verify their suitability for the procedure and beyond this, we understood that any potential candidates would be assessed further for their suitability by medical professionals and that nobody considered to be unsuitable for the procedure would be offered it. On this basis, we considered that the selection process for the competition was conducted responsibly.
We also noted that the competition itself included additional information on the reasons why someone might consider undergoing a 'tummy tuck' operation and we considered that this information gave readers a further chance to evaluate if the procedure was right for them. We also felt that the terms and conditions of the competition were clearly displayed and that readers would have been aware that they would only be able to win the procedure if they were deemed to be suitable for it.
We noted text in the competition which stated "say goodbye to your saggy stomach" and "We know you have body issues. Bits you'd like to nip, tuck, increase". We considered that the text was written in this way to directly target body insecurities, however, we did not consider that this was irresponsible.
We noted that the competition offered the first 200 successful entrants a 20% discount off future surgery at the McIndoe Surgical Centre. However, as this could be used up to three months later, we considered that this gave any recipient of that offer enough time to consider if they wanted to undergo a surgical procedure.
Taking this all into account, we therefore concluded that the competition was not irresponsible and did not promote an irresponsible attitude to plastic surgery.
We investigated the competition under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.3 1.3 Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society. (Social responsibility) but did not find it in breach.
No further action required.