Out-Law News 2 min. read

UK advertising regulators issue update on body image and enhancement review

Businesses must ensure any advertisements including digital alterations made to body images are not “irresponsible” or “misleading”, an expert has said.

It comes as the UK’s advertising regulators, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP), published an updated statement (10 pages/254 KB) on their review of the use of digitally altered images in advertising and their potential harmful impact on body image.

The CAP and BCAP will confirm this spring whether the existing protections offered by current codes and guidance adequately address the possible harms arising from digitally altered body parts and proportions depicted in advertising. Their upcoming report will include input from children and young people engaging with members of the advertising industry to facilitate any wider considerations of industry initiatives intended to address potential harms arising from digitally altered bodies in ads.

While there does not appear to be any immediate call to action or increased regulation for businesses to watch out for at present, businesses should remain increasingly vigilant and mindful of their advertising practices, as the exploratory work arising from the review “may result in enhanced regulation around these specific body-related advertisements being close on the horizon”, Sarah Richards of Pinsent Masons said.

Different types of businesses are likely to be impacted, Richards added, including not only advertisers but also intermediaries such as businesses providing online user-to-user services as well as online search engines.

The CAP and BCAP will be granted enforcement powers under the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill (DMCC Bill). Richards said: “It will be interesting to see if new enforcement powers granted to UK regulators will give rise to heightened action against misleading and irresponsible advertising generally, or whether high-priority areas such as sustainability claims, cost of living advertisements and marketing by influencers will remain a key focus.”

Indeed it is clear from a recent ruling against Calvin Klein Inc by the UK Advertising Standards Authority (the UK’s independent regulator of advertising and responsible for the application of the BCAP and CAP advertising codes), relating to poster advertisements featuring FKA Twigs and Kendall Jenner, that body image remains a key focus of the regulator.  

The body-image review is part of a broader series of online advertising reforms expected to take place throughout 2024, which follow the conclusion of the government’s online advertising programme (OAP) consultation. A further OAP consultation set to take place this year. A key part of the reforms expects to see the UK government advancing plans for new legislation to target paid-for online ads promoting unlawful activity and to protect children from ads for items they cannot legally buy.

To further protect against dangerous online practices and safeguard young people online, the Online Safety Act became law at the end of last year. Secondary legislation is expected in 2024 to define the thresholds for which organisations will be bound by the new rules, which will make social media platforms more responsible for their users’ safety.

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