Amid the clamour to attract and retain customers in the competitive and fast-growing world of aesthetics, practitioners must be mindful of the effect that their marketing has on the patient. Earlier this year the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned an advert for labia reshaping published in February’s edition of The Metro that promised patients ‘a more natural appearance’. The ASA ruled that the advert encouraged women to be dissatisfied with their bodies.
This case illustrates how easy it can be to fall foul of the ASA guidelines and serves as a reminder to practitioners to ensure that they are up to speed with regulations around marketing their services. Ethical marketing focuses on patient safety and always puts the patient before profits. The new rules published last year by the General Medical Council (GMC) in response to the Keogh Review, for doctors who offer aesthetic medicine and cosmetic interventions, are a useful framework for all aesthetic practitioners to abide by when marketing their services.
The Review highlighted how some unscrupulous providers encourage people to sign up for procedures using financial incentives without properly informing them of the risks or taking into account people’s vulnerabilities.
According to the ASA, more than 3,000 ads relating to cosmetic and aesthetic surgical and non-surgical interventions received complaints in the last five years, with just over 400 resulting in a ban. The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code covers many different types of advertising including social media, from the more traditional ‘paid-for’ ads to advertorials and affiliate marketing and also some of the content on social media channels. So, even if you are not advertising in a publication like the Metro but focusing more on social media, you still need to be aware of the guidelines.
In fact marketing on social media can be particularly problematic from the ethical point of view. The use of filters and airbrushed stock photography can depict unrealistic images which are simply not attainable for normal people.
The GMC rules state that the marketing of cosmetic procedures must be factual, clear and not misleading. It must not target children or young people and it must not try to pressure potential patients into making decisions quickly (for example by using time-limited special offers). Ethical marketing must take care to educate patients, making them aware of the risks associated with the treatments and offering a ‘cooling off’ period between an initial consultation and the actual treatment. It is also advisable to include language such as ‘subject to medical consultation’ and ‘results vary from person to person’.
While marketing is crucial to building up lasting, loyal clientele, it is vital to always put patient safety first and ensure that you are complying with recommended guidelines. In this way you are actively helping to improve standards in the aesthetic industry as well as differentiating yourself from less scrupulous practitioners.