Omega Pharma criticised for pushing poor body image in slimming ads

By Annie Harrison-Dunn

- Last updated on GMT

'The overall impression of the ad presented an irresponsible approach to body image and confidence,' the ASA tells Omega Pharma
'The overall impression of the ad presented an irresponsible approach to body image and confidence,' the ASA tells Omega Pharma

Related tags Obesity Medicine Weight loss

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) says adverts for Omega Pharma’s weight management aid presents an “irresponsible approach to body image and confidence”.

The investigation was sparked by 200 complaints that the TV and YouTube adverts were irresponsible in their promotion of an unhealthy body image, particularly among young girls.

The advert for the medical device, XLS Medical, featured two female friends exchanging text messages about losing weight in time for the summer holidays.

One of the women says she has lost weight thanks to XLS Medical, which she says could help users lose up to three times more weight than dieting alone.

The second actress then looks in the mirror frowning and says "Urgh. I'll never fit into my holiday wardrobe"​.

At the end of the advert, both women are shown on holiday posing together for a photo.

The company said the final image of the women showed they had reached their “healthy target weight”​, with both having a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than 19 kg/m2​.

However the ASA told the company its adverts must not appear again in their current form.

“We told Omega Pharma Ltd to take care to ensure their products were advertised in a socially responsible way,”​ it wrote in the ruling.

In a statement, the company said it had never meant to “cause offence, simply to highlight the variety of healthy weight-loss and weight-maintenance goals and motivations XLS-Medical can support with”.

“Across all of our communications we ensure that we represent a range of body shapes, ages and sizes, to acknowledge where our consumers might be on their own weight loss journey. As part of ad development we work with an independent weight management consultant to ensure we deliver positive and appropriate messages,” ​it said. 

Whilst we will comply with the ASA ruling, we are disappointed with the outcome and the claims brought against our current TV ad.”

Losing weight or losing confidence?

The company claimed the exchange of text messages portrayed normal preparations for a holiday, which a change in diet may be part of.

Yet ASA said the worry of the actress that she may not fit into her holiday wardrobe was likely to be interpreted by viewers as meaning she needed to lose weight, despite her already slim and healthy appearance.

“In addition, we considered the ad appeared to portray her as being dissatisfied with her seemingly already healthy appearance until she was shown on holiday, having seemingly lost the weight. We considered that was likely to be seen by viewers as actress B having a poor body image, rather than frustration that she might have left it too late to slim down to fit into her clothes.

“We therefore considered that, together with the combination of her slim build and healthy weight created the impression that despite her healthy physical appearance, weight loss was still necessary." 

Under age?

The complainants, which included representative body for naturists in the UK British Naturism, also said the actresses used appeared to be under 18, increasing the likelihood of appeal to this age group.

Yet defending itself, Omega Pharma said the actresses featured were aged 24 and 29.

The company said they were representative users of the medical device, seeking an effective “helping hand”​ for weight management ahead of their holiday.

The ASA rejected this part of the complaint however, concluding: “We acknowledged the models were in their mid to late 20s and that both, especially actress B, had a youthful appearance.

"However, because they were over 18, were portrayed in a way that was unlikely to be seen as typical of under-18s, and the ad was subject to a scheduling restriction, we concluded the ad was not addressed to or targeted towards under-18s and did not contain anything likely to appeal to that age group.”

The ad body also rejected the assertion that the women taking ‘selfies’ meant they were targeting a younger audience.

“We acknowledged actress A sent actress B a 'selfie' but we considered the act of taking and sharing selfies was not limited to under-18s.”

Post protein world fiasco 

This latest ruling differed from the ASA's July statement on the highly publicised Protein World fallout for its 'beach body ready' campaign.

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"​, because when this public "noise"​ was taken away there was little reason to ban the advert accused of shaming women.   

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