Two TV ads for the Proactiv+ skin care range, seen in May 2017:
a. The ad featured the actress Jorgie Porter. She said, "There was a time at school in the corridor once when a young lad shouted out to me ‘Oi spotty’.” At that moment, a photo of Jorgie aged 16 was shown. She had spots all over her face. She continued, "I didn't know it was to me. I just thought he was shouting at someone else, but I was the only person in the corridor. I was so gutted. When you look in the mirror, all you see is how bad your skin is. It's so frustrating, and what can you do about it? It's hard to cover up. You can't just stick a hat on. It's your face. When nothing works, you're so sad and you just think 'well that's me now forever'. I was so, so happy when I discovered Proactiv+. It changed everything. I get so many compliments about how good my skin is now, which I thought I would never hear anybody say that to me. And it's a massive shock when people say that because I forget and I think '[gasp], I do, I have beautiful skin now'. When you find something that works, it's a bit of a miracle." An endframe contained text stating "CLEAR SKIN STARTS WITH YOU. Proactiv.co.uk".
b. A longer version of the ad included the same segment referencing the school incident.
Four complainants challenged whether ads (a) and (b) were harmful, because they believed the ads implied that children were likely to be ridiculed or bullied if they had bad skin and did not use the product.
Proactiv Skin Health Ltd said the ad showed Jorgie Porter describing her own experiences in her own words. She was not given a script and was not asked to act in a particular way, or convey any particular emotion.
They accepted that Jorgie Porter, who was now in her late twenties, recounted an incident which occurred while she was at school, but pointed out that she was 16 in the photograph shown in the ad. They understood that the BCAP Code defined "child" as someone who was under 16 years of age. They said the photograph had been included to illustrate that she had had breakouts since her late teens.
They believed "ridiculed" and "bullied" were strong terms and whilst they did not trivialise such serious events, they did not agree that the ads implied that would occur if children did not use the products. The ads simply set out the personal story and experience of one woman. Her statement related to the sudden, unwanted occurrence of breakouts and did not disparage people who suffered from them (including herself) or imply that people were likely to be ridiculed if they did not use the products. Jorgie Porter's appearance in the ad demonstrated that breakouts could be experienced by just about anyone, including famous people, and that the products had worked for her and so could also work for viewers.
Clearcast supported Proactiv's response and added that Jorgie Porter was merely recounting a story from her school days when she was singled out for having bad skin. In their view, that suggested that she was initially unaware of the breakout on her face until it was brought to her attention. The photograph of her aged 16 was included as a way of personalising her story, since what was shown in the ad was a genuine testimonial. They pointed out that the photo was shown only once and briefly, for a maximum duration of four seconds in ad (a). They also pointed out that the personal recount by the actress related to a single occurrence of a sudden breakout and there was no suggestion that being called "spotty" was ever repeated or that it resulted in the actress being bullied.
They believed that the ads focused on the actress finding the Proactiv products at some point in her life and her current use of the products, and, as such, there was no link with her using the products when she was in her late teens. The majority of the ads showed the mature face of the actress and her using the product now. She was seen referring to her skin being good "now" on more than one occasion, therefore reinforcing the impression that the product was only being used in her adult life.
Clearcast believed there was no link in the ads between the products and children. They said the ads were not targeted at children and children were not part of Proactiv's target market. They said the BCAP Code stated that "Products and services of interest to children" were products or services that were likely to appeal to children, but were not of exclusive interest to them. Clearcast did not believe the ads or products were likely to appeal to children.
The ASA considered that the personal recount by the actress Jorgie Porter, of the incident in her childhood, of having "Oi spotty" shouted at her in the corridor at school, was a significant part of both ads and we noted that it was shown prior to the products being introduced. We noted that she became visibly upset as she recalled the experience and had tears in her eyes. The language she used also expressed that she was upset by the experience, for example, when she said "I was so gutted ... all you see is how bad your skin is. It's so frustrating ... you're so sad and you just think 'well that's me now forever'". We noted that the incident had occurred during her childhood and that she was now in her late twenties. We considered that her reaction indicated that the incident had had a significant impact on her and continued to upset her many years later. We acknowledged that the photograph of her with bad skin aged 16 was shown for a relatively brief duration, but also noted that it appeared full-screen and during her recount of the experience. We considered that although the photograph showed Ms Porter aged 16, she was at school during the incident and in the photograph she was wearing a school uniform, to which children were likely to relate.
Whilst we acknowledged that bullying behaviour varied in severity, we considered that the incident described by Ms Porter, of being called a derogatory name on the basis of her appearance, did amount to an episode of bullying or being ridiculed. We noted that the ads went on to describe how Ms Porter had cleared up her bad skin by using the Proactiv products, for example, where she stated, "I was so, so happy when I discovered Proactiv+. It changed everything. I get so many compliments about how good my skin is now ... I have beautiful skin now. When you find something that works, it's a bit of a miracle ...". We considered that the ads created a direct link between an incidence of bullying in her childhood as a result of her bad skin and a product she said had made her skin clearer, and that as a result the ads implied that children who had bad skin and did not use the product were likely to be bullied or ridiculed.
We noted Clearcast's comments about targeting. However, the ads were shown on a children's television channel and therefore children would have been watching. We considered that because of the potential harm to children who saw the ads, they required a scheduling restriction to keep them away from programmes which were commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal particularly to children.
For those reasons, we concluded that the ads were harmful and breached the Code.
Ads (a) and (b) breached BCAP Code rules 5.6 (Children) and 32.3 (Scheduling).
The ads must not be shown again in their current form around programmes commissioned for, principally directed at or likely to appeal particularly to children.