The investigation was sparked by a social media campaign against the London tube poster, which garnered 71,111 petition signatories and saw 378 complainants submitted to the ASA. Yet a spokesperson for the authority told us it had to be blind to such social media "white heat", when this public "noise" was taken away there was little reason to ban the advert.
In its ruling the ASA wrote: “Although we understood the claim ‘Are you beach body ready?’ invited readers to think about their figures, we did not consider the image of the model would shame women who had different body shapes into believing they needed to take a slimming supplement to feel confident wearing swimwear in public. For that reason, we concluded the ad was not irresponsible.”
The company said the term ‘beach body’ was meant to refer to one's best and invited the viewer to consider whether they were the shape they wanted to be.
“We recognised that ‘beach body’ was a relatively well understood term that for some people had connotations of a toned, athletic physique similar to the image of the model in the ad. We considered that it also had a broader meaning - that of feeling sufficiently comfortable and confident with one's physical appearance to wear swimwear in a public environment,” ASA said.
The complainants took offence to this question being placed next to slimming tablets. ASA rejected the complaint that the advert suggested those who were a different shape were somehow inferior.
A complaint against a Yves Saint Laurent advert published in Elle magazine is one recent example of a responsible body image case going the other way. In this case ASA concluded that the fashion house had drawn attention to the chest, rib cage and legs of a model who "appeared unhealthily underweight". The company disagreed but was told to change the advert.
While the ASA ruling was firm on the issues that hit UK mainstream headlines back in May, question marks remained on how a previous ruling on a range of unauthorised health and weight loss claims would be dealt with.
Some of the claims, which the ASA said should be removed back in April, still appeared on the company’s website, for example the product name ‘Slender Blend’ which was said to be an unauthorised health claim.
The spokesperson said the ASA compliance team was working with Protein World on the issues and the advertiser had already removed “some claims” from its website.
“The conversations are ongoing and there may be further amendments shortly,” he said.
The company was within its rights to fight its case on "some sticking points", which it found integral to its current campaigns. The behind-the-scenes discussions, which now involved the company's lawyer, was an education process for the advertiser on what could and could not be used according to the EU register of health and nutrition claims, he said.
While the talks had so far been cooperative, the ASA said the situation would not be allowed to continue for months and months. If a resolution could not be found voluntarily it had additional means at its disposal to put pressure on the company.
The ASA could ask search engines to remove marketer’s paid-for search adverts when this links to non-compliant marketing or the ASA itself could place a paid-for search advert publicising the offense of the company. Ultimately the case could also be forwarded on to its legal backstop the Trading Standards for court action, but last year this only happened three or four times, the spokesperson said.
This previous case was the final straw that had the company thrown out of the trade group (European Specialist Sport Nutrition Alliance) ESSNA.
Protein World did not respond to our request for comment in time for the publication of this article but on its official Twitter page it retweeted support of ASA’s decision.