Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
Three ads for The New Birkdale Clinic:
a. An e-mail sent on 29 May was headed "The Cosmetic Surgery Special Offer is now on". Text in the body of the e-mail stated "Hello [name] Just a quick email to let you know our fantastic £5000 voucher offer is back. Get £5000 of cosmetic surgery for £2500* At New Birkdale Clinic until midnight on Friday 31st May 2013 You can buy a voucher for £2500 which entitles you to £5000 worth of cosmetic surgery. Vouchers are strictly limited on a first come basis. If you are not able to take advantage of this offer at this time, why not pass on the message to family or friends who might be interested? Please call [telephone number] or click here for more details".
b. Clicking on "here" in ad (a) linked to a page on the website, www.newbirkdaleclinic.com, headed "Limited Web Offer". Further text stated "The New Birkdale Clinic Special Web Offer ... for a limited time! Get £5000 worth of Cosmetic Surgery for £2500 Limited number of vouchers available. … Limited Web Offer. Offer on now and until Midnight of Friday 31st May, you can get £5000 worth of cosmetic surgery for just £2500. Voucher value: £5000. Refund value of Voucher: Maximum £2500. Valid for 6 months. … Summary Conditions: Expires 6 months from purchase … If you change your mind within 2 weeks of purchase, a full refund will be given. If after consultation you are found unsuitable for surgery a full refund will be given".
c. An e-mail ad was headed "Summer Promotion". Text in the body of the e-mail stated "Hello [name] New Birkdale Clinic Summertime Promotion Have the perfect bikini breasts this summer Breast Augmentation just £2995.00!! Been thinking about changing your implants Removal and Re-augmentation just £3995.00!! Trust our expert specialised surgeons in our purpose built Private Hospital Book now for your consultation on [telephone number] or visit our website".
The Independent Healthcare Advisory Services challenged whether:
1. Ads (a) and (b) were socially irresponsible because they advertised time-limited offers for cosmetic surgery; and
2. Ad (c) was socially irresponsible, because they believed it implied the offer for cosmetic surgery was time-limited.
1. & 2. The New Birkdale Clinic said they marketed their products and services in a socially responsible manner, even when there were time limits. They said that no offer could be without a time limit, particularly when it was designed to fill gaps in their appointment system. They said their voucher offers had a very clear condition that the full amount paid could be refunded if the customer changed his or her mind within two weeks of purchase, with no questions asked. They said that two weeks was considered an acceptable standard cooling off period even for major surgery and so this was sufficient. They said that beyond the two-week period the full amount would be refunded if the customer was found unsuitable for surgery. They said that many other cosmetic surgery providers already charged £2500 or less for a breast augmentation and this meant their offers did not place people under undue pressure. They provided a screenshot from their website regarding the refunds available on their offer vouchers and a copy of the letter sent to those who purchased a voucher, which included information regarding refunds.
The ASA noted that ad (a) had been sent on 29 May and that it gave the offer closing date as 31 May. We considered that time-limited offers for cosmetic surgery should be marketed carefully by advertisers to ensure that consumers were not put under undue pressure to purchase and that they should ensure that all those notified of the offer had a reasonable amount of time to consider it. We did not consider that a deadline of two days was sufficient to allow consumers to consider the decision to purchase. Whilst we acknowledged that there was a two-week cooling off period we did not consider this was relevant to the presentation of the offer in the ad because by that point the consumer had already purchased the voucher and would therefore be psychologically committed. We also noted that ad (b) was a web page accessible to anyone visiting the website and so might have been viewed up until the offer deadline by consumers who were previously unaware of the offer, and they would therefore not have had a reasonable amount of time to consider the decision to purchase. Both ads (a) and (b) also made reference to the limited number of vouchers available which we considered put consumers under undue pressure to make a quick decision to purchase. We therefore concluded ads (a) and (b) were socially irresponsible.
Ads (a) and (b) breached 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).
Ad (c) referred to a "Summertime Promotion" but did not give any specific deadline to take up the offer. The complainant said when they rang to enquire they were told that in all probability they could pay a £1000 deposit within the next two to three weeks to guarantee this special price, although they would not have to have the surgery for another six months or so. Although the ad did not give a specific deadline we considered that the ad implied the offer was time limited and should therefore have made clear that consumers did not need to contact them straight away and that they had a reasonable amount of time in which to consider the decision to purchase. Because it did not do so we concluded ad (c) was socially irresponsible.
Ad (c) breached 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).
The ads must not appear again in their current form.