October 4th, 2011

Our stand on the London Weight Management ad

AWARE sent the following letter to the Advertising Standards Authority Of Singapore, the Media Development Authority, MediaCorp and London Weight Management’s parent company Ames United.

Complaint about London Weight Management Television Advertisement

We are writing to express our concern about the misleading and damaging messages about health, body image and self-esteem conveyed by slimming centre London Weight Management’s latest television advertisement (recently removed from the Internet). We strongly recommend that this commercial be withdrawn from television stations as soon as possible.

In accordance with the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice, advertisements should not:

  • Mislead by way of exaggeration
  • Play on fear without justifiable reason
  • Misrepresent information to mislead consumers into believing any matter that is not true
  • Feature testimonials or endorsements that are exceptional experiences (i.e., which do not reflect the experience that an average user of the product would ordinarily expect to have)
  • Further, the section on “Advertising for Slimming Products and Services” of the Code of Advertising Practice states that “independent testimony from published journals/reports will be required as to any physiological effects claimed. Testimonials from users do not constitute substantiation”.

This advertisement is in clear violation of the above guidelines.

By dramatizing scenes of depression, contemplation of suicide and family conflicts, it seeks to exploit the fears of insecure female consumers. It also reinforces social stereotypes by perpetuating the pernicious view that a woman’s worth hinges on her looks, and that men are incapable of looking beyond appearances when interacting with their female partners.

The ad states that the story it portrays is based on the experiences of an actual client. Independent and trustworthy testimony from relevant experts is absent from the ad. The viewer has no way of knowing how closely this dramatization of a purportedly real story sticks to the truth of what happened. Even if the ad is based on the actual experience of a client, it surely does not reflect the experience of the average overweight person.

Instead, it is overtly asserted that the female protagonist in this ad was terminated from her job due to her weight and appearance. The ad also claims that the woman’s weight is to blame for strained marital relations as well as other physiological and psychological issues.

These claims are simplistic and extremely dangerous. Firing someone for being overweight is not only offensive, but may be illegal if that is the only ground for her termination when her performance was not affected by being overweight.

Depression, suicidal thoughts and verbal abuse by one’s partner are serious issues that should not be trivialized in this way. It is crucial that women who are suffering from these problems not be misled into thinking that weight loss is the answer to their woes.

It is not surprising that this advertisement has been the subject of heavy criticism (see reports here and here). Consumers in Singapore have become increasingly sophisticated and do not care for the irresponsible messages in such advertisements, be they overt or subliminal. It is disappointing that companies like London Weight Management have not kept pace with the customers they court.

We believe that more stringent advertising standards are needed in order to prevent the public airing of such misleading and harmful messages.

AWARE strongly urges the immediate removal of this advertisement. We look forward to hearing from you about this issue.

Yours faithfully,
Corinna Lim
Executive Director

Kwan Jin Yao
Food Is Not the Enemy (Eating Disorders) Sub-Committee

Read about the latest update on this issue here.

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