Who: The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and Transport for London (“TfL”)
When: June 2016
Law stated as at: 4 August 2016
During Sadiq Khan’s election campaign, his manifesto included a pledge to ban ads that contained unhealthy or unrealistic body images. As a result, TfL have updated their advertising policy to confirm that they will not allow ads which could reasonably be seen as likely to cause pressure to conform to an unrealistic or unhealthy body shape, or as being likely to create body confidence issues, particularly amongst young people. The Mayor has also asked TfL, along with their advertising partners (JCDecaux and Exterion Media), to set-up a specific steering group designated with regularly reviewing TfL’s advertising policy.
The Mayor explained the reasons for his manifesto pledge and the updates to TfL’s advertising policy as follows:
“Nobody should feel pressurised, while they travel on the Tube or bus, into unrealistic expectations surrounding their bodies and I want to send a clear message to the advertising industry about this.”
The Mayor’s pledge appears to have been at least partly driven by the now infamous Protein World advert that was run last summer (see my previous articles on the public’s initial response and the ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority (the “ASA”) here and here), which was the fifth most complained about ad in 2015, but which was eventually deemed by the ASA as “unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence“.
Why this matters:
TfL’s Commercial Development Director, Graeme Criag, put forward the view that TfL’s customers are unable to ignore or simply flick past TfL’s ads, as they would be with ads in publications or online. Therefore, TfL see themselves as having a higher duty than other companies to ensure that the copy they display takes account of the environment in which TfL’s ads are displayed.
Advertisers targeting TfL advertising space are now likely to face a higher level of scrutiny than previously if their ads contain any comments, imagery or other messages relating to body image. This change is likely to have an effect on a wide range of products and services including weight loss, cosmetic surgery, health products, make-up and even clothing.
The updated policy is intended to prevent ads that could “reasonably be seen as likely to cause pressure to conform to an unrealistic or unhealthy body shape, or as likely to create body confidence issues, particularly among young people“; this is the factor that advertisers will now have to consider when they are putting together their ads. The difficulty of course is that the decision on whether or not an ad is deemed to be likely to cause such reactions will ultimately fall with TfL and will, in most cases, be a subjective question.
It’s likely that TfL will now err on the side of caution when considering whether or not an ad breaches the new standards to avoid similar situations to that caused by the Protein World ad last summer.
TfL will also publish an annual report which will include a review of the campaigns which have run on TfL’s transport network during the previous year. Hopefully this will discuss in detail any public responses to ads and will give advertisers a steer as to the types of ads and content that may not meet the standards of TfL’s new advertising policy.