Landmark ASA rulings on ads promoting treatment in Türkiye


The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has just published several critical rulings on the advertising of cosmetic procedures to be undertaken in Türkiye.


The ads were identified for investigation following intelligence gathering by our Active Ad Monitoring system, which uses Artificial Intelligence to proactively search for online ads that might break the UK’s advertising rules.  Dawn Knight and Sally Taber, the JCCP’s leads on complaints, made a major contribution to the ASA investigation.


The JCCP has logged at least 25 deaths as a result of cosmetic tourism to Türkiye, and Dawn Knight said, “the hope is this ASA ruling goes some way to curbing the blanket advertising of cosmetic tourism on UK social media. 


A paid-for Facebook ad for one company promoted cosmetic surgery in Turkey with a caption that read, “Are you ready to unleash your inner beauty, dear friend?”  It went on to promote the company as “your trusted partner in the realm of medical tourism!”


The ad included a photo of a slim woman holding a balloon while she pointed to her stomach, together with a smaller illustration of a gastric balloon in a stomach.  Text next to the image promoted gastric balloon and gastric bypass treatment and said, “Get a permanent beauty with Gastric Balloon”.


The ad also promoted 4 and 5 star hotels and travel to Turkey with another image featuring the Hagia Sophia skyline with several boats in front of it.


The ASA considered that references to “inner beauty” and “permanent beauty” together with the advertisement’s images implied that having a body that did not conform to prevailing beauty standards of slimness was a source of concern that could be rectified by surgery.  The ASA considered the ad exploited people’s insecurities and perpetuated pressure for them to conform to body image stereotypes and therefore concluded that it was socially irresponsible.


The ASA also considered that while the purpose of the ad was to promote cosmetic surgery abroad the tone, including the wording and visuals, focused on the travel, and it was likely to detract from the seriousness of the surgery offered.


The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Guidance on cosmetic interventions says that marketers should not imply that invasive surgery was a “minor procedure” and ads should not mislead as to the likely commitment required for pre-consultation, surgery, recovery and post-operative assessments.


It was also relevant that the surgery being promoted would take place abroad which raises the potential for additional risks, such as whether the doctors and treatment providers would have the same standards of care and safety as in the UK.  It also raises the question of how any arrangements for follow-up care and dealing with any complications which arose would be managed.


The ASA said it considered the ad could be interpreted as suggesting that surgery was a decision that could be undertaken lightly as part of a holiday, without serious consideration of the nature of the intervention and therefore concluded that the overall presentation of the ad was likely to be seen as trivialising cosmetic surgery.


The JCCP’s Dawn Knight said, “I am grateful for the work the ASA has done on this particularly given the complexities of taking action with companies registered outside the UK.  Let’s hope this helps raise awareness of the risks and operating practices of some companies in Türkiye.”


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