Botox is a trademarked name for a specific botulinum toxin type A product, but other brands are available, including Vistabel, Dysport, Bocouture, and Azzalure.
Botulinum toxin acts by blocking acetylcholine, the chemical which transmits electrical impulses that cause muscle contractions. It is usually injected into the face to temporarily paralyse the muscles and has a temporary effect on the reduction of fine lines and wrinkles. It is also used to treat certain medical conditions, including Hyperhidrosis, neuromuscular disorders and migraines.
- Don’t advertise Botox to the public
Botox is a prescription-only medicine (POM) and as such, cannot be advertised to the public (rule 12.12) (Venus Beauty Lounge, 5 August 2015 and MyCityDeal Ltd, 14 March 2012). In traditional non-broadcast media, such as leaflets, press ads, brochures, posters and even on sponsored ads, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) considers almost every reference to Botox and other botulinum toxin products as promoting a POM and therefore a clear breach of rule 12.12.
Committee of advertising practice (CAP) and the ASA has seen a rise in the number of posts on social media for Botox products. Marketers should be aware that any reference to Botox on their social media pages, including hashtags, is likely to be seen as an implied ad for a POM (Beauty Boutique Aesthetics, 25 September 2019).
- What if I also offer non-POM treatments?
Marketers who offer injected treatments which aren’t POMs in addition to offering Botox may advertise using the term “cosmetic fillers” or “injected fillers”. They should, however, ensure they don’t refer to Botox directly or describe treatments in any way that may imply Botox is being offered (for example, Beautytox or Beautox). Marketers must be careful to avoid an indirect promotion of the product.
- Don’t feature health professional or celebrities
While only suitably qualified health professionals should administer Botox, using health professionals to endorse the product breaches rule 12.18, which prohibits the use of health professionals or celebrities to endorse a POM (Anesis Spa, 11 July 2012).
- Don’t use before and after photographs
The use of before and after photographs is likely to be interpreted by the ASA as an efficacy claim, which is not permitted. Marketers should, therefore, avoid featuring any before and after images in their marketing communications.
- Don’t imply alternatives can achieve results comparable to Botox
Marketers should take care to avoid implying that their product achieves results comparable to Botox by, for example, depicting syringes or suggesting that their product negates the need for Botox (Direct Beauty Products Ltd, 19 August 2009 and John Mills Ltd, 6 May 2009).
The ASA also ruled against a website which stated “Better than Botox! Injection free solution for younger skin”, because evidence showing that the product could achieve the same or better results than undergoing Botox treatments had not been provided. The ASA also ruled that the claim was a medicinal one and had been made without the necessary MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) authorisation (Rejuvenex Direct UK Ltd, 10 October 2012).
- Promote the “consultation” itself, rather than the product
There are some exceptions for websites, principally those for clinics and pharmacies offering consultations for the treatment of lines and wrinkles, in that those websites may provide information about a POM, but only in the context of the product being a possible treatment option following a consultation. The claim “a consultation for the treatment of lines and wrinkles”, for example, is likely to be considered acceptable, but it remains that the name of the POM should not be referenced in the initial ad.
No reference to a POM should be made in a sponsored ad, on the homepage of a website, in logos, testimonials or hover text. In addition to this, any small print at the bottom of a homepage should not refer to POMs or directly link consumers to a page where they are referenced.
In 2014, the ASA upheld a complaint about an ad where Botox was referenced, rather than the consultation itself. The ad included separate information on Botox, which could be navigated to directly, without consumers also viewing information about the consultation process. (HB Health of Knightsbridge, 15 January 2014). Marketers should therefore ensure that the casually browsing consumer does not come across information relating to POMs with ease.
- Provide balanced and factual information
When making claims on their website, marketers should ensure that they are made in the context of promoting a consultation and made in line with the wording found on the patient information leaflet (PIL) or the information found in the Summary of Product Characteristics (SPC). There should be no promotion, whether direct or otherwise, of the POM or of the service as a means to obtain the POM and marketers should not include information in their ads that Botox can be used to treat areas other than those areas for which the product is licensed (Dermaskin Clinics, 15 January 2014).
In July 2012, the ASA ruled against a website which promoted various spa treatments and included a page headed “Facial Rejuvenation Clinic – Botox Treatments”. While the ASA considered that it was acceptable for a website to make balanced and factual references to a POM as a possible treatment option, provided the marketer emphasised the promotion of the consultation rather than any associated POM and it was clear that the consultation may or may not lead to the provision of Botox, they considered the claims went beyond balanced and factual references, and therefore breached rule 12.2, by promoting a POM to the public (Anesis Spa, 11 July 2012).
- Take care when including price lists
Marketers’ websites may include a price list with a range of treatments available, including Botox, but the price list should not include product claims or encourage viewers to choose a product based on the price.
In a ruling in 2012, the ASA noted that the advertised price list on a website appeared beneath the heading “Prescriptive Injectables and Evidence Based Skin Care” and that the website referred to “Line Relaxing Treatment (Botox)”. The ASA considered that consumers would interpret the reference to a “Line Relaxing” treatment in the price list, in conjunction with other references to Botox and its effects, as being a reference to Botox and that the ad therefore promoted a POM (Skinboost, 22 February 2012).
- Can I advertise to industry professionals?
While advertising Botox to the public is prohibited, it may be advertised directly to the medical, dental, veterinary and allied professions (rule 12.12).
As well as contacting the Copy Advice team, further information and advice is available from the MHRA Advertising Standards Unit at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the ASA.
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