'Beach Body Ready' advert was not offensive

ASA rules that the advert that sparked a massive backlash wasn’t offensive

Updated: 
Beach body poster row

An advert that sparked outrage, a petition calling for it to be banned, and 378 official complaints, has been reviewed by the Advertising Standards Authority. It has ruled that the advert was not offensive or irresponsible.

The row
When they first appeared, many of the adverts were defaced, and images of the posters went viral, because people felt the company was implying that people who weren't shaped like the thin model on the poster were inferior. Some also complained that the image used was socially irresponsible given that it was an advert for a slimming product.

Women of all sorts of body shapes took photos of themselves on the beach and added the comment that this was their beach body. Around 70,000 people also signed a petition calling for the advert to be banned.

An overwhelming number of those who objected to the advert felt that it objectified women, and engaged in body-shaming. This opinion was reinforced by some of the comments made by the company behind the advert - Protein World - as it responded to criticism. It issued a statement saying: "It is a shame that in 2015 there are still a minority who aren't focusing on celebrating those who aspire to be healthier, fitter and stronger."

It also personally responded to Twitter messages, including the reply: "and it's ok to be fat and out of shape instead of healthy? We are a nation of sympathisers for fatties #doesnthelpanyone"

The ruling

The ASA addressed the question of whether the advert was liable to cause widespread offence, and whether it was irresponsible. There might be those who would draw the conclusion that because 70,000 people were offended by the adverts, it did cause widespread offence, but this isn't how the ASA works.

The ASA considered the comments made by those who made official complaints, and the arguments from Protein World. The company said that it didn't think the poster implied that people should look like the model, they merely wanted people to reflect on whether they were in the shape they wanted to be in.

And the ASA completely agreed. The ruling said that the term beach body referred to: "feeling sufficiently comfortable and confident with one's physical appearance to wear swimwear in a public environment". It added: "We considered the claim... prompted readers to think about whether they were in the shape they wanted to be for the summer and we did not consider that the accompanying image implied that a different body shape to that shown was not good enough or was inferior."

It added: "We concluded that the headline and image were unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence."

How?

Matt Wilson An ASA spokesman told AOL: "We are not saying whether or not offence has been caused. Our role is to judge whether an advert crosses the line in terms of prevailing standards in society." Those notions of prevailing standards are not plucked from the air, but the result of regular research.

As far as the ASA is concerned, the advert didn't cross the line, so while it acknowledged the 'strength of feeling' of people who had complained about the advert, it decided that on balance that it wasn't likely to cause so much offence that it should "take away the advertiser's freedom of expression."

It would seem to indicate that the ASA decided that despite the fact that tens of thousands of people were highly offended, its research showed that they really ought not to have been - which seems like an unusual decision-making mechanism.

Campaigners can take some comfort from the fact that the advert had already been banned before the first of the complaints had even arrived - on the grounds that its health claims were not authorised by the EU.

But is that good enough? What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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