Claims of targeting ‘limp, lifeless hair’, or gaining ‘up to 60% longer looking lashes’ aren’t unusual in beauty ads. But is the cosmetics industry playing fair or are we falling for clever marketing?
There’s an eye cream in my cupboard that promises to ‘fight against fine lines and wrinkles’. Compelling marketing, but does it actually mean anything – after all, don’t all fights inevitably involve a loser?
There’s been a lot of adverse publicity about the way that companies advertise cosmetics. Remember the furore back in 2008 about Boots enhancing actress Keeley Hawes’ lashes with ‘lash inserts’ in their mascara advertising?
Consumer complaints overruled
Regulator the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that Boots hadn’t done anything wrong as there were on-screen disclaimers such as ‘enhanced in post-production’.
Then, this year there were forty complaints about Cheryl Cole’s hair extensions in adverts for Loreal’s hair care products. These weren’t upheld by the ASA either. Part of Loreal’s defence was that ‘Cheryl Cole was already well known for having hair extensions and openly discussed that with journalists’. Oh, that’s alright then.
We put anti-wrinkle eye creams through lab testing last year and found that none (regardless of price) came close to eliminating the appearance of wrinkles. But – if I’m really honest – I think I knew that already.
Cosmetic companies do, of course, have to be able to justify the claims they make, prove they’re safe and back them up with scientific evidence. The problem is, beauty products aren’t prescription drugs or medical treatments so don’t require the same level of research.
Complaints to the ASA about health and beauty advertising rose 14% between 2008 and 2009 and it’s now the third most complained-about sector. But out of complaints on 1311 adverts, only 206 were found to be in breach of the Advertising Codes, suggesting that the codes may not be adequately reflecting what consumers see as the real problems.
Will the new rules work?
This month, revised advertising codes came into force. The rules say (among other things) that advertising must not exaggerate the capability of a product or omit material information. Plus, marketers must have evidence to back up their claims about what a cosmetic actually does, not just what it contains.
But I still have unanswered questions in all this. Firstly, I’m concerned that cosmetics companies will still use clever marketing to hide the caveats and ensure they’re not falling foul of the regulator.
Will the new advertising regulations mean that consumers’ complaints are upheld more often? Do we simply have to accept that the devil is in the detail and look carefully at the small print?
Time will tell. Maybe I should just buy a large pinch of salt and a hefty dose of scepticism along with my battle-scarred, youth-enhancing eye cream?
Have you felt misled by beauty ads?
I don't buy stuff based on ads (55%, 44 Votes)
Yes, I've regretted buying certain products (44%, 35 Votes)
No, I'm happy with what I buy (1%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 80