Whether they appear in broadcast or non-broadcast media, ads for cosmetics are in danger of breaching the Advertising Codes if they unduly exaggerate what a product can do in practice. Implying, for example, that lashes can double in length or wrinkles can simply disappear is likely to go beyond what is allowable if consumers are likely to expect the product to deliver the claimed effect. To help marketers get it right, CAP and BCAP have issued a joint Help Note on the Use of Production Techniques in Cosmetic Advertising.
Most consumers allow for a little poetic licence when it comes to cosmetic ads and obvious exaggerations, whether they are visual or otherwise, are likely to be seen by consumers as exactly that. But marketers who materially mislead consumers, whether through pre- or post-production techniques, about the capability of a cosmetic product are, as always, likely to breach the Codes.
Of course, the Help Note is not intended to stop marketers using stylised images that illustrate a concept or how the product works rather than depicting the actual benefit, for example, diagrams or cartoons. Nor does it seek to thwart the legitimate use of styling or make up that is unlikely to affect a consumer’s understanding of the product’s efficacy; for example, marketers can freely add eye lash inserts in ads for hair products, lipsticks and other unrelated products. But the Help Note does advise caution if, for example, marketers retouch aspects of an ad that are directly relevant to the product advertised. So, marketers should not airbursh the appearance of lines and wrinkles around the eyes in an ad for an eye cream. Nor should they use ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos that distort what is achievable by using the product; it is not acceptable, for example, to apply post-production techniques only to the ‘after’ photo if by doing so, the ad misleads.
Several marketers have found that using lash inserts in mascara ads has breached the Code. The ASA has, on occasion, considered either that their use distorted what was achievable from the product alone or that the disclaimer that lash inserts were used was insufficiently clear (Coty UK Ltd and Avon Cosmetics). As with all ads, footnotes or superimposed text must qualify, not contradict, specific claims or a consumer’s overall understanding of the advertised product. The presence of a disclaimer does not allow marketers to use misleading claims or images. If the ad is inherently misleading, it remains so regardless of any superimposed disclaimer or qualifier.
So, if you want help to spare your blushes, check out our new guidance.