The UK's advertising watchdog has ruled that the highly controversial "Are you beach body ready" campaign by Protein World weight loss products was not offensive but the advertisement is still banned on other grounds.
In a statement, the watchdog said that even before it investigated the issues raised over the advertisement, it had already informed Protein World: "Due to our concerns about a range of health and weight loss claims, the ad could not appear again in its current form."
It said while the advertisement is now prohibited from appearing based on these grounds, the watchdog still undertook a separate investigation to determine whether it was in breach of advertisement rules on harm, offence and social responsibility.
The ad was seen on the London Underground network and featured the image of a toned and athletic woman wearing a bikini with the words "Are you beach body ready?" the authority said.
In its defence, Protein World said that the phrase 'beach body' was commonly used and understood to mean looking at one's best and as such it was intended to invite the viewer to consider whether they were in the shape they wanted to be.
The ad did not imply that everyone should look like the model in the ad or that the text and image were irresponsible.
Protein World also said that Exterion Media had obtained pre-publication advice from the CAP Copy Advice team on whether the ad was irresponsible or likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
In its ruling, the watchdog said it recognised that the phrase 'beach body' was a relatively well understood term and that it also had a broader meaning of "feeling sufficiently comfortable and confident with one's physical appearance to wear swimwear in public environment."
It said that the advertisement "prompted readers to think about whether they were in the shape they wanted to be for the summer and we did not consider that the accompanying image implied that a different body shape to that shown was not good enough or was inferior."
The watchdog also ruled that the ad was not socially irresponsible as it did not think the image of the model would "shame women who had different body shapes into believing that they needed to take a slimming supplement to feel confident wearing swimwear in public."
A total of 378 complains were received, with issues raised around the offence and potential harm.
The advertisement drew a protest in London's Hyde Park and an online petition on Change.org drew more than 70,000 signatures, The Guardian reported.
Disappointed over watchdog's ruling
"We find the ruling from the ASA extremely disappointing and we would argue that the advert is irresponsible. While we recognise advertising and the media cannot cause eating disorders – they are much more complex than that – we are aware how toxic images can be to an individual," Rebecca Fielding, spokeswoman for the eating disorders charity Beat said.
"While continuing to promote a slender body image as the only one we should aspire to, the Protein World advert advertises diet products, only adding to the harmful effect it could have on those susceptible to an eating disorder," she said, according to The Guardian.
The newspaper said the campaign made its US debut near New York's Times Square last week where it met with mixed reaction, including being defaced with "this oppresses women" stickers on the subway.
Protein World's head of global marketing Richard Staveley has said that the company received a bomb threat following the launch of the ad but said it had been "a brilliant campaign for us."