A TV ad for a cosmetic surgery company, Transform, seen at 10:30 pm on 24 April 2016. The ad featured a 21-year-old female fashion blogger, Sarah Ashcroft, who spoke about her experience of breast enhancement surgery. Ms Ashcroft said, "I never really looked at any part of my body past my neck because it wasn't something I liked. So, I spent endless hours looking into getting a cosmetic procedure. From the moment I walked into the Transform Clinic, I knew these were the people I wanted to go with. I feel like a new person, from having nothing to then looking at yourself with boobs, it was the weirdest thing. Everyone was like 'wow, they look so natural, I'm so impressed'. And to come away from it feeling ten times more confident than you were I think is just an amazing feeling."
The complainant, who believed the ad exploited young women's insecurities about their bodies by implying that breast-enhancement surgery would make them more confident and popular, challenged whether the ad was irresponsible and harmful to those under 18 years of age.
TFHC Ltd t/a Transform said that while cosmetic surgery was an established sector where advertising was permitted, there were parts of society who objected to the sector itself, as opposed to its advertising alone. In this case, they said that Ms Aschroft was representative of many independently minded, responsible, thoughtful, sophisticated and successful young females who chose to undergo cosmetic surgery. They believed she was a positive role model, and enjoyed a social media following in excess of 500,000 people. They said her testimony could be viewed with neutrality as she chose cosmetic surgery with Transform for clinical reasons and paid for her procedure prior to being approached to feature in the ad. Her testimony was also unscripted.
Transform believed that, rather than exploiting insecurities about bodies, the ad reflected the emotional and physical outcome experienced by Ms Ashcroft. The ad did not make any claims that breast enlargement surgery resulted in increased popularity, and Ms Ashcroft’s popularity was not referenced in the ad. They pointed out that Ms Ashcroft states that she "spent endless hours looking into getting a cosmetic procedure", which indicated to viewers that cosmetic surgery was not something which should be undertaken lightly.
Transform did not believe the ad would cause harm to those under 18 years of age. They pointed out that the ad included on-screen text that stated surgery was "not without risk" and "is for over 18s only", and they explained that the ad was only scheduled after 9 pm to ensure that the ad was not unduly exposed to an under 18 audience.
Clearcast said that the ad showed Ms Ashcroft was previously unhappy with her breasts, and then expressed joy at the change achieved with cosmetic surgery. Ms Ashcroft made clear that she had not taken her decision lightly and had spent hours looking into the procedure and choosing the clinic that she had felt happy with. In addition, the ad included an on-screen text warning to emphasise the seriousness of undertaking cosmetic surgery. They did not believe the ad would cause harm to those under 18 as the on-screen disclaimer made clear that you needed to be 18 to undergo surgery. In addition, Ms Ashcroft was 21 years old and they believed she looked and sounded like a mature adult.
The ASA noted that Ms Ashcroft was a 21-year-old female fashion blogger, and we considered that the ad’s focus on her personal experience meant that it would have a direct appeal to young women and teenage girls.
We noted Ms Ashcroft’s testimonial emphasised the transformative impact cosmetic surgery had had upon her life. Before surgery, she said, “[She] never really looked at any part of [her] body past [her] neck”, whereas after her surgery she felt “… ten times more confident” and “… like a new person”. We were concerned that the focus on the negative perception she had of her body prior to cosmetic surgery might encourage viewers, particularly young women and teenage girls, to think about their own insecurities about their bodies. Further, while we appreciated that Ms Ashcroft did not explicitly link cosmetic surgery with her popularity or success, we considered that viewers would nevertheless infer from Ms Ashcroft’s emphasis on her personal transformation and the degree of confidence she said she had gained that her popularity and success as a fashion blogger had been, in part, a result of cosmetic surgery. Although Ms Ashcroft’s was a personal story, we considered that the ad suggested more generally that success and popularity would be enhanced by achieving an idealised body image, which could be done by “correcting” any perceived imperfections. In light of those factors, we concluded that the ad was irresponsible and likely to cause harm to those under 18.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules 1.2 1.2 Advertisements must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to the audience and to society. (Social responsibility) and 4.1 4.1 Advertisements must contain nothing that could cause physical, mental, moral or social harm to persons under the age of 18. (Harm and offence).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told TFHC Ltd to take care to ensure their service was advertised in a socially responsible way that was not likely to cause harm to those under 18 years of age.