Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Not upheld.
A TV ad for Optical Express, seen in October 2017, promoting Laser Eye Surgery, which featured eight people describing how they felt when wearing glasses. The voice-overs stated, “Frustrated. Unattractive. Tired. Old. Restricted. Fuzzy. Fed up … I hated glasses.” On-screen text stated, “We asked our patients how they felt before and after eye surgery”. The patients’ voice-overs then stated, “So now I feel happy. Free of irritation. Sophisticated. Hassle free. Amazing. Relieved. Confident. Free and Fabulous.” On-screen text stated, “Optical Express also sell a full range of glasses and contact lenses” and “Laser eye surgery from £595 per eye Search ‘Optical Express’ to book your FREE consultation”.
The ASA received eight complaints:
1. Eight complainants, who believed that the ad implied that wearing glasses was ugly and unattractive, challenged whether the ad was offensive;
2. Four of the complainants, who were also concerned that the ad would have a detrimental impact on the self-esteem of children who wore glasses, challenged whether the ad was irresponsible and likely to cause harm to children.
1. & 2. Optical Express said that the quotes in the ad were all genuine testimonials from patients who had recently undergone laser eye surgery. They explained that each individual’s opinion was their own personal view about wearing spectacles and their experience of laser eye surgery. They explained that those who wore glasses routinely expressed the opinion that it was considered by them to be unfortunate that they were required to do so in order for them to function in society. They explained that if this was not a very widely held opinion then there would not be the large number of people who elected for contact lenses or laser eye surgery. For people who had a significant visual deficit there was a relatively limited range of methods by which their prescription might be corrected. They stated that many found glasses unappealing visually and/or uncomfortable and found contact lenses awkward to insert, liable to ‘move’, uncomfortable and liable to cause infections. They also stated that there were also issues of cost over extended periods and laser eye surgery provided a permanent and in the longer term, less costly way of addressing their vision problems.
Optical Express stated that they could not see how the opinions expressed in the ad would be regarded as offensive or harmful, including for those who were under the age of 18. If younger people wished to have laser eye surgery when their vision had ‘settled’ and they were over the age of 18 then no determinant would be caused to them.
Optical Express stated that there was no evidence presented to show young people declining to wear spectacles because laser eye surgery was not available until they were at least 18. Further, nothing was presented which would suggest that the availability of laser eye surgery to over 18s caused under 18s to fail to wear spectacles. They said that laser eye surgery was a solution for concerns not the cause of or a contributor to those concerns.
Optical Express explained that the ad did not assert or imply anything about the attractiveness or otherwise of spectacles. The ad simply presented something that was a truism, i.e. that some people did not find spectacles attractive and that for those who had elected for laser eye surgery, it had proven to be a satisfactory way of addressing their concerns. They said that no serious or widespread offence was caused by the ad.
Clearcast stated that the ad was a light hearted treatment which promoted laser eye surgery. The text in the ad indicated that the Optical Express patients were asked how they felt before and after surgery and they spontaneously gave their views which were summed up in a word or phrase. Those views were personal and they received signed testimonials that they reflected their views. Clearcast did not consider it to be offensive.
They stated that the ad did not say that all glasses were unattractive and horrible to wear. The ad also contained text which stated “Optical Express also sell a full range of glasses and contact lenses”, so those patients could have taken up those options as opposed to having laser surgery. It could have been that the glasses they had did not suit their face or features and that was why they felt that way.
They stated that they did not consider that children would be particularly attracted to the ad and if they viewed the ad that it would not harm their self-confidence.
1. & 2. Not upheld
The ASA noted that the ad featured a variety of comments from patients who had undergone laser eye surgery, who commented on the negative feelings they had about wearing glasses prior to surgery and their positive feelings after undergoing surgery. Two of the patients said that they felt “ugly” and “unattractive”, which we acknowledged some viewers were likely to object to. However, we noted that the comments were very brief, and considered that they would be understood by viewers, including children, as the personal views of those particular patients as opposed to a generalised statement by Optical Express about all people who wore glasses.
We also noted that the on-screen text “Optical Express also sell a full range of glasses and contact lenses” informed viewers that Optical Express also sold glasses, which we considered contributed further to the impression that the ad was unlikely to be seen as expressing a demeaning and offensive message to those who wore glasses.
For those reasons, we concluded that the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offense or harm to those under 18.
We investigated the ad under BCAP Code (Edition 12) rules 4.1 4.1 Advertisements must contain nothing that could cause physical, mental, moral or social harm to persons under the age of 18. 4.2 4.2 Advertisements must not cause serious or widespread offence against generally accepted moral, social or cultural standards. (Harm and offence) and 32.3 32.3 Relevant timing restrictions must be applied to advertisements that, through their content, might harm or distress children of particular ages or that are otherwise unsuitable for them. (Scheduling), but did not find it to be in breach.
No further action necessary.