In April 2011, CAP and BCAP launched a Help Note on the use of production techniques in cosmetics advertising. Consumers have come to expect an element of ‘glamour’ in cosmetics advertising, and the use of styling, make-up, lash inserts, hair extensions is acceptable provided these techniques do not mislead. However, an uplift in complaints to the ASA about visuals used in cosmetics advertising, and particularly marketing for mascara, led it to consider that some marketing might be going too far. So where should the line be drawn?

Marketers using pre- or post-production techniques must be able to demonstrate that these do not go beyond what a consumer would expect to achieve using the product. The ASA position in 2007, arising from an adjudication on an ad featuring Penelope Cruz, allowed mascara ads featuring models wearing false eye lashes to disclaim that fact in the small print. However, an increase in complaints to the ASA about mascara ads led to concerns that this policy was being interpreted by advertisers as permission to show unduly exaggerated and misleading images of a mascara’s lengthening, volumising and defining capabilities.

The CAP/BCAP guidance, produced in consultation with the industry, is not intended to restrict creativity in cosmetics advertising, but lays down some basic principles for ensuring that pre- and post-production techniques commonly used within the cosmetics industry do not mislead consumers. How has that guidance impacted on complaint levels and ASA adjudications over the past 12 months?

Complaints about a TV ad for mascara seen in October 2011 were ‘not upheld’ by the ASA because evidence showing consumer use of the product on natural lashes led it to consider that, although some post production had been used, the length and volume of lashes shown in the ad did not exaggerate what a consumer could expect to achieve. Similarly, the ASA did not uphold a complaint about a magazine ad for mascara because the advertiser provided it with details of the post-production techniques used and demonstrated that the effect shown in the image was in line with tests on actual consumers. These are good examples of advertising that complies with the Code.

However, it is not only in mascara ads that use of production techniques can mislead by exaggerating the achievable effect of the product. Cosmetic products that smooth and even out skin tone, or reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles are ever-popular with consumers. But the re-touching of photographic images in relation to such products requires particular attention to avoid misleading consumers, and the ASA is likely to ask for evidence of exactly how an image has been altered if it receives a complaint. An ASA adjudication published in 2011 upheld a complaint about the digital manipulation of an image in a magazine ad for foundation, because it believed the enhancement of the final image exaggerated the effect the product could achieve for consumers; whereas a further complaint about a foundation was upheld because the advertiser did not send sufficient evidence for the ASA to determine whether the ad accurately illustrated the effect that could be achieved.

Treatments that are fantastical, particularly in broadcast media, may be acceptable provided that consumers understand the context of any marketing claims. A TV ad for a moisturiser which used digital effects to transform an ‘older’ woman into a ‘younger’ version was deemed acceptable because the visuals were clearly fantastic in nature, on-screen text confirmed this, and the voiceover clearly clarified “No moisturiser can make you grow young”. The ASA considered that consumers would not interpret the visuals literally to mean the advertised products would make them younger.

However, a magazine ad for an anti-wrinkle cream that used an image which had been altered to make the model’s complexion look smoother and more even, in conjunction with claims “skin looks smoother” and “complexion looks more even” was judged by the ASA to have used post-production techniques in a way that was likely to misrepresent what was achievable and thereby mislead.

Overall, the 12 months since the publication of the CAP/BCAP Help Note has seen a welcome reduction in complaints about the misleading use of production techniques in cosmetics advertising. The advice set out in the Help Note, reinforced by the ASA adjudications referenced above, can be outlined in a few simple dos and don’ts:

• Re-touch visuals related to any characteristics directly relevant to the apparent performance of the product
• Use false or artificial enhancements (e.g. lash inserts, artificial nails) for ads promoting the effects of the product on lashes and nails unless it can be shown the effect illustrated is achievable by the consumer without those enhancements.
• Remove skin blemishes or reduce wrinkles in ads making claims for the effects of the products on those areas.

• Ensure that pre- and post-production techniques do not alter the effect beyond what is achievable by the consumer
• Hold evidence (e.g. in the form of ‘before and after’ photographs) to demonstrate how production techniques have been used.
• Ensure that any superimposed text clarifies rather than contradicts a primary claim or visual effect.

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