A TV ad for Diet Chef, seen in July 2016, featured a character, Cheryl, talking to her former self two months after starting Diet Chef. The voice-over stated, “Two months after starting with diet chef Cheryl meets her former self.” The former and current Cheryl then had a conversation, “I know how you feel, you can look that good again you know”, “You look, amazing. I never dreamed I could be that slim again”, “It feels good. Why did we wait so long?”, “I just didn’t believe I could do it. I just couldn’t stick to anything”, “I bought a bikini last week, for the first time since this picture”, “I want it, I want what you’ve got”, “You can”, “How?”. The voice-over then stated, “Discover why over a 150,000 people like Cheryl have chosen diet chef to lose weight. Go to dietchef.co.uk now.” The former Cheryl was shown wearing a baggy shirt and with messy hair and appeared distressed, with the current Cheryl shown in a more fitted outfit with a more polished appearance and a happier demeanour. Both versions of the character were played by the same actor.
Twenty-six viewers, who variously believed that the ad exploited women’s insecurities about their bodies by implying that you needed to be slim in order to be attractive and happy and implied that overweight women did not take care of themselves or their appearance, objected that the ad was offensive and irresponsible.
Diet Chef Ltd stated that, as a diet plan company, they recognised that weight control could be a sensitive issue for many consumers. As a result, they took their responsibilities as an advertiser seriously. They said that the ad did not make any statements to the effect that consumers needed to be slim in order to be attractive and happy, or that overweight women did not take care of themselves or their appearances. Neither did they believe that this could be interpreted from the general look and feel of the ad. They stated that the contrast in emotions between the two versions of the character showed the frustration of the former Cheryl, who did not feel able to make a change in her lifestyle or to maintain a controlled diet and so was surprised that she had done so, and the sense of achievement of the current Cheryl, who encouraged her former self to make such a change and suggested how she could do so. They provided a document showing that when playing the former Cheryl, the actor had a BMI of 27.4, which was in the overweight category.
Diet Chef acknowledged that the former version of the character was wearing a baggy shirt and had messy hair while the current version wore a more fitted outfit and looked more polished. However, they did not believe that this implied that overweight women did not take care of themselves or their appearance. Instead, they said the change of appearance reflected the change in her lifestyle and “taking control”. They said that the overall approach of the ad was typical of the “before and after” genre of ads commonly used to advertise weight loss products, and that viewers would see the ad in that context.
They did not believe that the ad was exploitative of women and stated that it was not designed to shame women and did not imply that a certain body type was inferior. As such, they did not believe that the ad was offensive.
Clearcast said that they recognised that weight and body image were sensitive topics and they took this into consideration when working with the agency and the advertiser in the pre-production process. They stated that the ad contained a testimonial from a former customer in which she explained, in her own words, her thoughts and feelings about her struggle with her weight and how she felt, and believed that she looked better when she was in control of her eating habits and at a healthier weight. While the post-diet version of Cheryl wore a more close-fitting top and wore more makeup to show a more obvious manifestation of her physical and emotional achievement, they emphasised that both versions of the character were well-presented. They believed that the ad had been prepared with a sense of responsibility to the audience, ensuring that it faithfully captured the content of the testimonial, and did not suggest that overweight individuals did not take care of themselves or that women needed to be slim to be attractive.
The ASA noted that, while the former version of Cheryl appeared less polished than the current version, who had styled hair and wore more make-up, she did not give the impression that she had neglected her personal appearance. We therefore considered that viewers were unlikely to see the ad as implying that overweight women did not take care of themselves or their appearances, and concluded that it was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.
We noted that the former version of Cheryl appeared distressed after looking at a picture of herself wearing a bikini when she was slimmer, and her voice sounded tearful. When she was presented with the future version of herself and the suggestion that she could look like that as well, the tone in which she said “I want it, I want what you’ve got” and “How?” gave the impression that she was desperate to lose weight. The character’s unhappy demeanour appeared disproportionate to concerns about her weight, especially as she did not appear to be particularly overweight, despite being dressed in baggy clothing. We considered that viewers would understand that her concerns about her weight had had a significant effect on her general well-being. We considered that, overall, the ad focused disproportionately on the former Cheryl’s negative feelings about her appearance, and implied that weight loss was the only solution to her problems. It therefore implied that those with insecurities about their bodies, and particularly their weight, could only achieve happiness and self-confidence through weight loss. We therefore concluded that the ad presented a socially irresponsible approach to body image and breached the Code.