ASA Adjudication on Michael Joseph Ltd
Michael Joseph Ltd
3 October 2012
Number of complaints:
Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both were Upheld.
A poster for a diet book, seen on the London Underground, stated "OMG! Lose up to 20 pounds in just six weeks OMG! Get a flat tummy and thin thighs fast OMG! At last the diet that tells you the truth. The last diet you'll ever need to do". The cover of the book stated "SIX WEEKS TO OMG GET SKINNIER THAN ALL YOUR FRIENDS".
Another poster for the same book, had a larger centralised image of the book and again stated "SIX WEEKS TO OMG GET SKINNIER THAN ALL YOUR FRIENDS".
1. Four complainants challenged whether the claim "GET SKINNIER THAN ALL YOUR FRIENDS" was irresponsible, because it could encourage competitive dieting or eating disorders.
2. One of the complainants also challenged whether the ads were irresponsible because they were unsuitable for display in an untargeted medium, and could encourage children and teenagers to adopt unhealthy eating habits.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
1. Michael Joseph Ltd (MJ) said the statement "Get skinnier than all your friends" was the subtitle for the book "Six Weeks to OMG" and appeared in both ads in the context of a book cover. They said the subtitle acknowledged that the aim of most people who undertook a diet regime was to lose weight and therefore get "skinnier". They explained that the phrase was intended to be used in a comparative sense rather than in a competitive one, and that it was not their intention to encourage competitive dieting.
2. MJ acknowledged that the distribution of posters throughout the London Underground network meant that they could be seen by readers of all ages. They stated, however, that neither the book nor the advertising for it were intentionally aimed at young people below 18 years of age. Similarly, they did not believe that the ads contained anything that was particularly appealing to young people. In support of this, they said the phrase "OMG" was common slang used by people of all ages and its use in the title of the book was intended to convey excitement, not to reflect youth culture or appeal to young people.
MJ also submitted information regarding the book's publicity campaign. They highlighted that the campaign had come to an end and that no further advertising was planned for the book. They also stated that the ads had been booked to be displayed on the London Underground network for a period of only two weeks in July and should have since been removed.
The ASA acknowledged that in the context of the ads, the claim "Get skinnier than all your friends" appeared on the book's cover and was intended to convey that individuals undertaking Venice A Fulton's diet regime could lose weight and therefore become "skinnier". We understood, however, that the word "skinny", when used to describe an individual, could be interpreted to mean that they were very thin and had an unhealthy weight. We noted that the claim "Get skinnier than all your friends" implied that being skinny was desirable and that individuals should attempt to lose weight to that end. We considered that the claim could act as a trigger for a number of individuals who lacked self confidence or had body image concerns, in that it could encourage them to compare their weight and appearance with their friends, or other people, and adapt their eating habits to try to lose weight regardless of whether or not their current Body Mass Index was deemed healthy. We therefore considered that the ads could encourage vulnerable individuals to engage in competitive dieting or unhealthy eating habits, and concluded that they were irresponsible.
On this point, the ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.3 (Social responsibility).
The ASA understood that the ads were untargeted and appeared across the London Underground network. We noted from information regarding the book's publicity campaign that the target audience for the book was women of 20 years of age and above. However, contrary to MJ, we considered that the expression "OMG", would have appeal to young teenagers and its appearance in both ads in large, bold, red letters could catch their attention. We also considered that a number of young teenagers, particularly girls, could fit into the category of vulnerable individuals who had concerns, or felt uncomfortable, about their weight and appearance. We therefore considered that the claim "Get skinnier than all your friends" could have particular resonance with these teenagers and encourage them to adopt unhealthy eating habits. Because of that we concluded that the ads were irresponsible.
On this point, the ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 (Social responsibility) and 13.3 (Weight control and slimming).
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told Michael Joseph to avoid using claims that were irresponsible and could encourage individuals, and in particular children, to engage in harmful behaviour. We also told them to take greater care to ensure their ads were targeted appropriately.