Aspirational cosmetic surgery advertising shown during Love Island 2018 gets pied by the ASA

October 2018

Following receipt of 17 complaints the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has today banned advertisements shown during ITV 2’s Love Island for breast enhancements, on the basis that they were considered to be exploitative of young women’s insecurities.

The TV and Video on Demand advert was shown in May, June and July 2018 during ITV 2’s Love Island and featured a voice-over which stated, "If you've been considering breast enlargements for a while, then visit to book your free consultation". The advert then showed young women posing, dancing and laughing around a swimming pool, on the beach and on a boat. The voice-over continued, "These girls had breast enlargements with MYA and all feel amazing".

The complaints argued that the MYA Cosmetic Surgery (“MYA”) advert trivialised breast enhancement surgery and suggested that it was aspirational. They argued the contrary that it was irresponsible and harmful. MYA disagreed with this and argued that the advert did not make any explicit claims about the positive impact of the surgery. MYA specifically drew attention to the on-screen statements:

"If you have been considering breast enlargement for a while"

"No surgical procedure is without risk. 18+" and

"Any decision to have cosmetic surgery should not be undertaken lightly. Allow plenty of time to reflect before going ahead with a procedure",

which it argued demonstrated that the procedure was serious, and patients should take time to reflect prior to proceeding with surgery. Clearcast supported MYA’s submissions and argued that the advert avoided any discussion of negative feelings towards women’s bodies, and although the imagery was positive, the on-screen text alluded to the risks involved.

The ASA upheld the complaint as it considered it to be irresponsible and harmful. Whilst the ASA acknowledged the on-screen text it held that the advert had gone beyond presenting the lifestyle of the women in the advert in a positive light, and implied that those women were only able to enjoy their aspirational lifestyle because of the surgery. The aspirational lifestyle together with the statement “join them and thousands more” acted as a “call to action”, and had the effect of trivialising the decision to undergo surgery.

The decision demonstrates the increasing willingness of the ASA to ban adverts that it considers to be socially irresponsible. Last week we reported on the ASA banning an advert by online fashion retailer Nasty Gal, as it considered it was “socially irresponsible”. As society becomes more conscious of mental health issues, it is increasingly likely that the ASA will uphold complaints made on the basis that it considers adverts to be socially irresponsible. This decision has featured heavily in the media with Mental Health Foundation director Isabella Goldie stating that the decision marked a “watershed moment” for cosmetic surgery advertising, and NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens stating: “The ASA are right to take action to clamp down on these manipulative and potentially harmful adverts, responding to concerns that we and others have raised”.

This update was prepared by HGF Legal Director Tom Nener. If you would like further advice on this or any other matter please contact Tom or your usual HGF representative, alternatively visit our Contact Page to get in touch with your nearest HGF office.