In June 2023 the United Nations confirmed that, following a request from their government, that the Republic of Turkey would henceforth be identified as the Republic of Türkiye. Although the change has been implemented, we have used the former here because it is currently more commonly understood by consumers.
This Ruling forms part of a wider piece of work on cosmetic surgery abroad. The ads were identified for investigation following intelligence gathering by our Active Ad Monitoring system, which uses AI to proactively search for online ads that might break the rules.
Summary of Council decision:
Three issues were investigated, all of which were Upheld.
A paid-for Facebook ad for Whmclinictr, promoting cosmetic surgery in Turkey, seen in May 2023, featured the caption “[…] WHM Clinic offers you the opportunity to turn your operation into a vacation! 5-star hotel, VIP transportation, personal translator […]. Everything is included in the work procedures and is carried out according to international standards and in a completely transparent way. Fill in the form now and don’t miss the opportunity”.
An illustration underneath was headed “WHAT IS A TUMMY TUCK?” and “CHECK HOW MUCH YOU CAN SAVE ABROAD”, and featured a person with a rounded tummy and several bullet points describing “BENEFITS OF TUMMY TUCK”. One of the benefits was “INCREASED BODY CONFIDENCE”. An additional image visible when swiping to the right compared the price, in Euros, of tummy tuck surgery in different countries, with Turkey at the cheapest price of €1,950.
The ASA challenged whether the ad:
1. reference to “INCREASED BODY CONFIDENCE” as a benefit of a tummy tuck was irresponsible because it exploited insecurities surrounding body image;
2. including the reference to “the opportunity to turn your operation into a vacation!”, trivialised the decision to undergo cosmetic surgery and was therefore irresponsible; and
3. misleadingly omitted information regarding the need for a pre-consultation to assess the patient’s potential contraindications and suitability for the procedures, including where such pre-consultation would take place.
1., 2. & 3. WHM Hair Transplant and Aesthetics t/a Whmclinictr did not respond to the ASA’s enquiries.
Meta said they did not have any comments.
The ASA was concerned by WHM Hair Transplant and Aesthetics t/a Whmclinictr/WHM Clinic's lack of response and apparent disregard for the Code, which was a breach of CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.7 (Unreasonable delay). We reminded them of their responsibility to respond promptly to our enquiries and told them to do so in future.
The ad featured an illustration that listed several “BENEFITS OF TUMMY TUCK”, such as “REMOVAL OF EXCESS FAT AND SKIN” and “REDUCTION IN VISIBLE STRETCH MARKS”. The illustration further included a reference to “INCREASED BODY CONFIDENCE” as one of those benefits. We considered that the association of an increase in confidence with obtaining a tummy tuck implied that having a body that did not conform to prevailing beauty standards of slimness or had visible stretch marks, was a source of concern, because it would impact self-confidence, and that it could be rectified by surgery.
We therefore considered that the ad was likely to encourage consumers to focus on concerns about their bodies as a reason for cosmetic surgery and therefore that the ad exploited those insecurities. We concluded that the ad was therefore socially irresponsible.
On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.3 (Responsible advertising).
The CAP Code required marketing communications to be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.
The ad included references to “the opportunity to turn your operation into a vacation!” and “CHECK HOW MUCH YOU CAN SAVE ABROAD”. It also gave emphasis to items of the cosmetic surgery package which people would closely associate with holidays such as: “5-star hotel” and “VIP transportation”. We considered that the ad was not likely to be interpreted as promoting a holiday; rather, its purpose was clear that it was for cosmetic surgery abroad.
However, because the overall tone of the ad, and particularly the wording in the caption, focused on the travel, it was likely to detract from the seriousness of the surgery offered. It was also relevant that the surgery would take place abroad which raised the potential for additional risks, such as: whether the doctors and treatment providers would have the same standards of care and safety as in the UK; and how any arrangements for follow-up care and dealing with any complications which arose would be managed. We considered that the ad could be interpreted as suggesting that surgery was a decision that could be undertaken lightly as part of a holiday, without serious consideration of the nature of the intervention. We therefore concluded that the overall presentation of the ad was likely to be seen as trivialising cosmetic surgery.
On that point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.3 (Social responsibility).
The CAP Guidance on cosmetic interventions stated that marketers should not imply that invasive surgery was a “minor procedure” or similar if that claim was likely to mislead as to the complexity or duration of the operation, the pain experienced either during or after the operation, the length of the recovery time or the potential side-effects. Ads should not mislead as to the likely commitment required for pre-consultation, surgery, recovery and post-operative assessments.
Aside from referencing that the clinic was based in Turkey, the ad contained no further details about the procedure or the location where it would take place. The ad omitted information regarding the need for a pre-consultation to assess the patient’s potential contraindications and suitability for a tummy tuck, including where such a pre-consultation would take place. We understood that a pre-consultation would be necessary in order to discuss the patient’s concerns and suitability for the procedure, outline the complexity or duration of the operation, the pain during or after the operation, the length of recovery time and the potential risks and side effects.
While we had not received a response from the advertiser, we understood it was likely that pre-consultation might sometimes need to take place in person rather than remotely. We considered that in the context of an ad for cosmetic surgery abroad, information regarding the necessity for a pre-consultation and where it would take place was material information necessary for consumers to make a considered decision and should have been included in the ad. Because that material information was not included we considered that the ad was misleading.
On that point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising).
The ad must not appear again in the form investigated. We told WHM Hair Transplant and Aesthetics t/a Whmclinictr/WHM Clinic to ensure their future ads were socially responsible, by not exploiting insecurities about body image and not trivialising the decision to undergo cosmetic surgery. We also told them not to mislead consumers by omitting material information regarding cosmetic surgery procedures abroad and the need for a pre-consultation, including where it would take place. We referred the matter to the CAP Compliance team.