Omega diet-aid ad banned in U.K.; not 'socially responsible'

Omega Pharma's advertising for its diet pill XLS Medical found itself in the middle of a dust-up in Britain, with hundreds of complaints flying about the swimsuit-season promos. And now, the campaign is banned altogether.

In the TV and online ad, two young women text each other about getting ready for summer holiday by using the diet aid. That storyline spawned 200 complaints to the U.K.'s Advertising Standards Association, criticizing the ad for targeting teens and promoting an unhealthy body image.

Omega, a subsidiary of OTC specialist Perrigo ($PRGO), defended itself by saying the ad was "in line with the well-accepted concept that before going on a summer holiday, some consumers sought to adopt a healthier diet and lifestyle."

The ASA countered, saying, "While we recognised that there might be viewers who would consider a change in diet and lifestyle ahead of the summer season in general or a summer holiday, we considered there was nothing else in the ad to suggest that weight loss was just one element of preparing for a holiday."

The ASA examined six different instances of potential violations in the Omega advertising, including that the young appearance of both actresses targeted teens. That complaint was not upheld by the standards body, but ASA did rule that in three instances the ad, which appeared on TV, YouTube and video on demand services, broke its social responsibility code.

The organization's final action was that the ad cannot appear again in its current form, adding it informed Omega "to take care to ensure their products were advertised in a socially responsible way."

The ASA also recently banned another TV ad for being socially irresponsible in promoting a corset that "promised to squeeze women's waists to a 'sexy, tiny' size," the International Business Times reported. But the ASA also refused to ban another "beach body" commercial from Protein World despite getting "almost 400 complaints it objectified women."

In the U.S., the $25 billion supplement business is overseen by the Federal Trade Commission, coordinating with the FDA, and is a common cause for action over false or unproven claims. Weight loss aids in particular, with promises of quick and easy weight loss, get their fair share of government attention. The FTC reports it has filed 120 cases challenging health claims for supplements in the past decade. Of the 12 dietary supplement cases it listed for 2015 in a November post, six of them were for charges of "deceptive weight-loss claims."

Perrigo CEO Joseph Papa

Perrigo snapped up Omega Pharma in late 2014 in a $4.5 billion deal, aiming to broaden its international reach and solidify its position in the European OTC market, CEO Joseph Papa said in a statement. Omega brought along a portfolio of 2,000 products, including diet aids such as XLS Medical.

- read IBT story
- see ASA ruling
- check out FTC dietary supplement action chart

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