On January 31 the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) launches monitoring software to catch and pull down Botox ads on social media. Promoting the prescription only medicine is forbidden but the rules haven’t changed, this is more about the ASA wanting to become a digital regulator.
As The Times reported, dozens of cosmetic practitioners have been breaching the guidelines by offering “new year body” Botox deals on Instagram, and many are hoping to avoid detection by putting the word Botox in an image rather than a caption.
This tactic will work so unscrupulous practitioners will use it because there is no financial deterrent to stop them (offending posts will be removed and uncooperative repeat offenders referred to relevant regulators like the GDC). I doubt that will be the case for risk averse dental practice owners, however, who will want to avoid the wrong kind of attention.
You can make much of this if you decide to be transparent with your audience and talk about what the ASA is doing in your blog (hint, this is a good opportunity to position yourself as a safe and ethical provider of facial aesthetics in a dangerous unregulated market). Mention that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) won’t be able to prevent a high street or home visit beautician who flouts the rules from continuing to practise to reinforce your status as a safe and reliable practitioner playing by the (rather flimsy) rules.
If you have inadvertently broken the rules, rival dental businesses in your area may want to report you over the coming month, while they are focussed on this issue. Should you be contacted by the ASA, simply comply with the advice you are given promptly and you have nothing to worry about.
A source at the ASA admits that the guidelines contain loopholes and that enforcement is a question of scale. The organisation doesn’t expect to clean up this problem, and that’s why it’s focusing on an area it can have a tangible effect on — social media, especially Instagram and Facebook — using software that’s normally employed by commercial companies to track brand reputation.
These platforms have agreed to act on the ASA’s behalf and pull down offending content, which can’t be a bad thing because 40% of 13 to 19 year olds say social media images cause them to worry about body image. But it will be a lot of work: online Botox promotions are driven by good ROI as part of a growing non-surgical cosmetic industry that’s estimated to be worth £2.75bn in the UK.
Because of increasing demand even respectable practitioners are going to look for workarounds here. It’s quite a messy situation: Botox complements dermal fillers, a non-prescription treatment, and it is a de facto part of the facial aesthetics market, which is not regulated. Remember, the rules haven’t changed and they apply to all marketing material.
You have more leeway with your website. You can advertise a facial skin consultation and make references to Botox that are “incidental, balanced and factual”. However you can’t mention Botox directly or indirectly in a price reduction or time limited offer, because the focus of the promotion would then be on the product rather than the consultation.
You can only mention the price of Botox on your website where you have first mentioned that it is a prescription medicine that may be recommended as a result of a facial skin consultation. In social media posts you can refer to anti-wrinkle injections so long as they can be taken to mean dermal fillers. You can’t show before and after images of Botox treatment.
The ASA doesn’t expect you to trawl through all your historic posts, just the ones that are current and easily visible. Here are the FAQs that it drafted after a flood of enquiries resulting from its rather more opaque enforcement notice. Good luck, and if you need your site to be checked and edited for compliance we can handle it for you.