A TV ad for Diet Chef has been banned by the UK advertising regulator for presenting a “socially irresponsible approach to body image”.
The ad, which aired in July this year (you can view it in full below), features the character Cheryl talking to her former self two months after starting the Diet Chef program.
Diet Chef is a subscription delivery service that offers customers a monthly plan of healthy meals, designed to help them lose weight.
As pictured, the former Cheryl was shown “wearing a baggy shirt and with messy hair and appeared distressed”. The current Cheryl was shown “in a more fitted outfit with a more polished appearance and a happier demeanor”.
The former and current Cheryl have a conversation in the ad:
CHERYL 2: “I know how you feel, you can look that good again you know”
CHERYL 1: “You look, amazing. I never dreamed I could be that slim again”
CHERYL 2: “It feels good. Why did we wait so long?”
CHERYL 1: “I just didn’t believe I could do it. I just couldn’t stick to anything”
CHERYL 2: “I bought a bikini last week, for the first time since this picture”
CHERYL 1: “I want it, I want what you’ve got”.
26 viewers complained to the ASA after seeing the ad, on the grounds that it “exploited women’s insecurities about their bodies by implying that you needed to be slim in order to be attractive and happy”.
Viewers also complained the ad was offensive and irresponsible because it “implied that overweight women did not take care of themselves or their appearance”.
The UK’s independent advertising regulator – the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – upheld some of the complaints, concluding the spot breached the advertising code related to social responsibility.
The ASA’s assessment said: “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”.
The ad was also investigated against the advertising code related to “harm and offence”. However, the ASA did not find the ad in breach, saying that “while the former version of Cheryl appeared less polished than the current version … she did not give the impression that she had neglected her personal appearance”.
Diet Chef’s response
In response to the ruling, Diet Chef said the ad did not make any statements suggesting people need to be slim in order to be attractive and happy, nor that overweight women did not take care of themselves.
The contrast between the two Cheryls’ emotions in the ad were intended to show the frustration of the former Cheryl over not being able to change her lifestyle or maintain a diet – and her surprise at the future Cheryl for being able to do so, Diet Chef said.
The company also provided a document showing the actor who played the former Cheryl had a BMI (body mass index) of 27.4 at the time, which is in the overweight category.
Diet Chef did acknowledge the former Cheryl wore a more baggy clothing and had messy hair compared to the polished future Cheryl, but the company said this change reflected the change in Cheryl’s lifestyle and that she was “taking control” – rather than implying overweight women do not take care of their appearance.
Diet Chef said it did not believe the ad was exploitative of women, that the spot was never designed to shame women, and that it did not imply any body type was inferior.
“As such, [Diet Chef] did not believe that the ad was offensive,” according to the ruling.
Clearcast, the UK’s broadcast clearing body, said it had accepted the ad for airing on TV as it believed the spot was “prepared with a sense of responsibility to the audience.”
The ASA ruled the ad must not appear again in its current form and told Diet Chef to ensure its products were advertised in a “socially responsible way” in the future.