As the old adage goes, you wait all lockdown for an ASA ruling on 'Skinny Jabs' and then three come along at once. The ASA are really having a bumper week.

It is worth considering each of the rulings in turn as they differ slightly on their facts:

1. ASA Ruling on SkinnyJab Ltd t/a SkinnyJab

The complaints related to two Instagram posts by Gemma Collins (the self-styled 'GC') and a website for SkinnyJab Ltd. The two posts were:

(a)  An Instagram story on the GC's page in April 2020, featured a video, in which the GC stated “Working on my summer body whilst in isolation … and this really helps me … this is what you get when you’ve ordered from SkinnyJab … and it does help, it really does help … cannot wait to be out of lockdown in a nice summer dress.” The post also featured a SkinnyJab Guide booklet and a box with the lable "OZEMPIC 1 mg solution for injection in pre-filled pen" and "semaglutide".

(b) An Instagram post on SkinnyJab’s account, in February 2020, featured the SkinnyJab logo and a cartoon of a slim woman in a vest top and shorts, holding a water bottle and measuring tape around her waist. Thought bubbles containing a cupcake and a salad appeared beside her head along with a caption: “Tired of craving and unable to control bad eating habits? SkinnyJab is here to help! [smiley face emoji]”.

Whereas the website, in May 2020, featured on its "Price & Information" page the text: "Average weight loss is 12-20lbs within the first 4 week course".

The issues were whether GC's Instagram post was (i) obviously identifiable as a marketing communication; and (ii) breached the Code by promoting a prescription-only medicine. In relation to SkinnyJab's post, the issue was whether it was irresponsible as implying the product could be used by people who were not overweight. Finally, whether the claim relating to a specified weight loss complied with the Code.

SkinnyJab's response stated that their contract with Ms Collins expired in December 2019 and had not been renewed due to COVID-19 and lockdown. They said that it had been agreed with Ms Collins’ agent that they would resume their working relationship when restrictions were lifted, and that whatever Gemma said or did during this period was nothing to do with SkinnyJab. In addition, SkinnyJab argued that they were strict about not advertising names of prescription-only medications that they used and had removed all names of prescription-only medicines from their website with the advice from the MHRA. SkinnyJab said that had they been aware of Ms Collins promoting a prescription-only medication, they would have stopped it. 

In the ASA's assessment, upholding the complaint, it was made clear that the CAP Code stated that:

(a) marketing communications must be obviously identifiable as such.

(b) despite the supposed pause in the relationship, on investigation the ASA had not seen anything convincing them that SkinnyJab had directed GC on how to change her social media activity in relation to SkinnyJab during that period.

(c) Other than tagging SkinnyJab the posts were absent of a clear identifier that it was an ad, i.e. not using #ad.

(d) The cartoon of the slim woman, together with the claim “Tired of craving and unable to control bad eating habits? SkinnyJab is here to help” implied that the injections offered by SkinnyJab could be used to help prevent cravings in people who were not overweight. The ASA found this message implied that people who were not overweight would benefit from weight loss treatment and was therefore irresponsible. 

(e) The CAP Code states that marketing communications must not contain claims that people can lose precise amounts of weight within a stated period. Whilst SkinnyJab said that they could substantiate the average weight loss for their patients was between 12 and 20lbs in the first four weeks. The ASA considered the claim would be interpreted by consumers to mean that they could lose between 12 and 20lbs within the stated period of four weeks and therefore was in breach of the Code.

2. ASA Ruling on Skinny Revolution Ltd

The ASA investigated four Instagram posts by Skinny Revolution Ltd, another weight loss injecting supplier. The first 3 posts, all in March 2020 made claims such as: “LOSE OVER A FULL STONE IN JUST 2-4 WEEKS", “You can lose over ONE STONE in just a month with Skinny Revolution. This is based on the results of past clients”, and "Kerry Katona lost over 2 stone with Skinny Revolution in just 2 short months! Our weight loss programme combine [sic] an appetite suppressant with a change in lifestyle as well as content support to get you to your ideal weight". 

The fourth post, in April 2020, was of a "before" and "after" picture showing a Barbie doll having put on weight supposedly during quarantine. 

The claim implying a particular weight loss in a specified period of time was challenged on the same grounds as the SkinnyJab ad, whilst they also investigated whether the posts promoted a prescription-only medicine; and if the April post was irresponsible as exploiting insecurities around body image.

Skinny Revolution only responded to say they had removed all social media posts which referenced the prescription-only medication.

The ASA subsequently upheld the complaints in relation to all three issues: (1) the claim that people can lose precise amounts of weight within a specified period; (2) the advertisement of a prescription-only medicine; and (3) the requirement for advertisers to ensure advertising was prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and society.

3. ASA Ruling on Skinny Clinic

Again, the issues investigated by the ASA were from Instagram posts and a website for Skinny Clinic, another weight loss injection provider. The facts are relatively similar to the above two cases and focussed on:

(i) The bio on SkinnyClinic’s Instagram page, in May 2020, featured the claim “Lose 11-13 lbs in 3 weeks".

(i) A repost of a post by glamour model Jema Gilsenan with the statement, “I’m gonna be coming out of lockdown half the size!!”

(iii) An Instagram post on SkinnyClinic's page with the text:  “Can’t believe I’ve put on a size 8 pair of jeans today! I am so happy … can’t wait for my next pen to come, it’s a new way of life for me [smile emoji]”.

(iv)  The website, seen in May 2020, featured a product listing for ‘Weight loss product Saxenda Novo NorDisk’.

The issues were again similar in that the ASA investigated the weight loss claims; whether the posts were irresponsible as suggesting that the jabs were suitable for people who were not overweight; and the ad on the website promoted a prescription-only medicine.

SkinnyJab did provide a response, primarily arguing that the claims were based on feedback from clients and that they gave appropriate advice when supplying the jabs. They conceded on the issue of promoting a prescription-only medicine.

I think you can guess by now that the complaints in relation to all three ads were upheld.

Take home

So, what does this mean? What are the take-away points? Well, it's a reminder that where you engage an influencer to market your products you need to use the relevant #ad disclosures. Claims of specified weight-loss within a defined period of time are unlikely to be looked upon favourably by the ASA, even if you do have some customer testimony. A reminder that advertisers have a responsibility to consumers and society when promoting their products. And, finally, what we would have thought would be quite basic - don't advertise prescription-only medicines!