Pinterest bans weight-loss ads in face of reopening-related social pressures

Dive Brief:

  • Pinterest announced a new policy that bans all ads featuring weight-loss language or imagery, part of its efforts to create a more inclusive platform for users. The company claims it is the first platform to enact such a policy.
  • The updated guidelines, which were developed with the help of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), prohibit a wide range of messages around weight loss, including personal testimonials; references to the Body Mass Index or similar indices; products that claim to induce weight loss when worn on the body or skin; and ads that denigrate or idealize certain body types.
  • The move responds to a sharp uptick in unhealthy eating habits and eating disorders among young consumers identified by the NEDA as well as to an increase in wellness-related searches reported by Pinterest. These trends have been on the rise due to the coronavirus pandemic, and consumers may feel additional pressure to lose weight as in-person gatherings resume with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

Dive Insight:

Pinterest is banning weight-loss ads as part of its broader efforts to create a platform that serves as an inclusive, safe environment for users. The company has a long history of trying to differentiate itself from other social media sites through a focus on positivity and discovery. It has previously taken stances against body-shaming and barred ads that promote appetite suppressants or weight-loss pills and procedures like liposuction.

The weight loss and diet category is infamously rife with scams — the Federal Trade Commission even has a dedicated page for spotting red flags — so Pinterest’s decision could act as a pruning of its advertiser base. Multilevel marketing distributors and other shady actors have used the pandemic as a means to grow their online footprints and businesses, according to a report in Time.

But the diet and exercise category, including more legitimate players, will likely be ramping up spending in the months ahead as consumers seek ways to burn off the “Covid 15,” a cheeky term for weight gained during quarantine. The NEDA’s findings also indicate that serious eating disorders have grown more widespread in recent months as a result of the crisis, which could put a bigger onus on platforms to safeguard user health.

“We are hopeful this global policy will encourage other organizations and companies to reflect on potentially harmful ad messages and to establish their own working policies that will create meaningful change,” said Elizabeth Thompson, interim chief executive for the NEDA, in a press statement.

Pinterest is positioning the new policy as a response to changing user habits. Searches for “body neutrality” — a movement that promotes accepting one’s body as it is — have increased five times compared to the year-ago period, according to Pinterest, while searches for “healthy mindset quotes” have jumped thirteen-fold.

Pinterest, which saw revenue jump as people spent more time at home due to COVID-19 restrictions, has introduced similar initiatives to combat what it views as growing online toxicity. In April, it released a Creator Code that encourages influencers to practice inclusion, be aware of triggers and to not talk down to others, among other recommendations. The company last year faced its own controversy related to inclusion after former employees brought forth allegations of racism in the workplace and unfair pay.

Advertisers themselves are grappling more with a history of propping up constrictive ideals of beauty and health. Unilever, the packaged goods giant behind brands like Dove and Axe, earlier this year banned the use of the word “normal” in the advertising and packaging of its beauty and personal care brands.

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