LONDON (AdAge.com) -- In Spain, ads for diet products, some beauty treatments and plastic surgery are now officially considered more dangerous for young people than commercials for alcohol.
As European governments are trying to figure out how responsible marketers and media are for the obsession of many young women with weight and idealized beauty, Spain's government is about to pass a law banning marketers from advertising certain beauty products and services "that encourage the cult of the body" on TV before 10 p.m. Alcohol products can be advertised from 9 p.m.
It's unclear when the ban will go into effect, but the potential for a ripple effect in other countries is clear. "My initial reaction was to think that this could have wide implications -- it could be a nightmare scenario," said Stephan Loerke, managing director of the Brussels-based World Federation of Advertisers. "Of course there is an underlying legitimate public-health discussion, but we need to be sure about the intentions of the Spanish government. We are waiting to hear in more detail exactly what this will cover and to fully understand what this means."
Elsewhere in Europe, a French member of parliament introduced a bill last year that would add warning labels to airbrushed photos in magazines, ads and packaging. According to U.K. media reports, Valerie Boyer, the author of a report on eating disorders and mother to two teenage daughters, would like the warnings to say: "Retouched photograph aimed at changing a person's physical appearance."
In Spain, the government is pro-active on social issues, including skeletal fashion models. In 2007, the health ministry agreed with major fashion retailers, including trendsetters Zara and Mango, that the mannequins in their stores would not have proportions smaller than a U.S. clothing size 6.
The new TV law states: "Broadcasters cannot carry advertisements for things that encourage the cult of the body and have a negative impact on self-image -- such as slimming products, surgical procedures and beauty treatments -- which are based on ideas of social rejection as a result of one's physical image or that success is dependent on factors such as weight or looks."
"The ban is about product function rather than the content of the communication," said Lowe's Mr. Pallete, whose clients include Injuve, the government's youth institute. "The goal is that no under-18s will be affected by mental issues like anorexia and bulimia. In Spain, people tend to go for non-surgical methods of slimming, like not eating or vomiting, but we have had a lot of immigration from Latin America, where plastic surgery is much more common, and their culture has influenced our culture."
The biggest about-to-be-banned advertiser is Corporacion Dermoestetica, a national chain of cosmetic surgery clinics. Mr. Pallete predicts that advertisers will follow the example of cigarettes and alcohol, maintaining their budgets but diverting the money to sponsorships, events and online. Or they may just advertise late at night.
There's also the danger of spillover into other categories in the crosshairs. Among the Top 100 global marketers ranked by Advertising Age, the personal-care category is the second biggest, at $25 billion worldwide, about the same size as automotive at No. 1 and twice as big as food, another potential target. Several European countries already require warning labels regarding fat, salt and sugar content.
Some marketers already embrace a broader, more natural definition of beauty, most famously Unilever, with its global Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, which has ranged from the award-winning, Canada-created web video "Evolution" showing how an ordinary woman can be Photoshopped into a supermodel, to Mexico's Effie-winning "Mamas" campaign featuring the mothers of three glamorous actresses.
Brigitte, one of Germany's most popular glossy women's magazines, decided to ban models starting this month and promised to use only pictures of "real" women, including their own staffers and readers who audition online. Last year, French Vogue did an April cover shoot and photo spread of eight female European celebrities, including Eva Herzigova and Charlotte Rampling, wearing no makeup in unretouched photos.
While debating the 10 p.m. watershed for slimming products and plastic surgery, the Spanish government considered -- but eventually rejected -- a far more draconian ban that would have included all products advertised as "light," potentially banning ads for a wide range of food and drinks such as Coke Lite and light beer.