L’Oréal photo “shopping” Dior to the ASA? A case of the pot calling the kettle black

October 24, 2012

No surprise that the Advertising Standards Authority has banned another beauty ad – this time Black Swan Actress Natalie Portman modelling Christian Dior’s mascara, on account of her eyelashes being airbrushed to artificial perfection.

Much more interesting is the fact that the complainant is not some earnest advocate of “real beauty” and, er, truth in advertising, but Dior’s deadly rival in the cosmetics business, L’Oréal.

Pretty rich, all things considered: as a manipulator of the truth, L’Oréal takes some beating. Readers of this blog will recall the case of Cheryl Cole’s false locks, and Beyoncé’s preternaturally “latte” skin tint. They may also have noted a series of ASA bans over the last year or two affecting L’Oréal ads featuring Rachel Weisz, Christy Turlington, Julia Roberts and Penelope Cruz: in fact, just about every female brand ambassador L’Oréal has ever used. Although, come to think of it, no one, so far as I know, has yet got round to checking the hair-roots of Andie MacDowell, L’Oréal’s recruiting sergeant in the eternal war against the Greys, to see whether it’s actually a wig she is wearing.

Apologists for L’Oréal will no doubt tell their critics to get real: they are merely working in a long and dishonourable tradition of deception. Perfect beauty is by definition impossible to attain and when women strive for it, they don’t want it represented by a warts-and-all model but by a heavenly idealisation.

Nevertheless, L’Oréal’s hypocritical assault on Dior plumbs new depths of cynicism. Compared with its own systematic distortion of visual reality, Dior’s misdemeanour – which consisted of photoshopping La Portman’s individual lashes – is a mere peccadillo.

Playing Goody Two-Shoes may yet boomerang upon L’Oréal. Unless it really has turned over a new leaf, which I doubt.

How far should advertising be allowed to airbrush reality?

August 19, 2011

When was the last time we had an old-fashioned row over the pernicious effect of advertising on bulging waistlines, cyrrhotic livers and diseased lungs? Well over a year ago, I would guess. Thanks to a change of political regime and, more importantly perhaps, a tightening of public purse strings, many of the advertising industry’s bêtes noires (for which read single-issue NGOs and pressure groups) have – for the time being – beat a retreat to their burrows.

One resilient exception is the vexed issue of airbrushing, which just won’t go away. Should our model images – whether celebrity or mannequin – reveal their true selves, warts and all? Or should they be allowed to convey, thanks to the alchemy of digital manipulation, an idealised perfection? And if the latter, where do we draw the line?

Vintage image manipulation: Henry VIII fell for it

It has to be said, this is not exactly a fresh issue. The vintage victim of visual misrepresentation was Henry VIII – who became understandably incandescent on discovering his bride-to-be, the svelte young Duchess of Cleves portrayed by court painter Hans Holbein, was in the flesh a wholly unprepossessing ‘Mare of Flanders’.

Much more recently, the charge has been led by Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson, who claimed L’Oréal’s scalp when she persuaded the Advertising Standards Authority that the cosmetics company had gone over the top in representing actress Julia Roberts and supermodel Christy Turlington as airbrushed examples of an impossible beauty.

Of the two, Henry had the better case: Holbein’s portrait blatantly lied. L’Oréal, on the other hand, might reasonably contend (and in fact did, in so many words) that it is in the business of portraying unattainable beauty: it sells a dream, not the fleshly reality. Swinson’s point, and presumably the ASA’s in adjudicating against the campaign, is that the images are of such unblemished perfection that young females – slavishly devoted to celebrity culture – will feel their own bodies wholly inadequate by comparison.

Strangely, what no one has done is to ask the target market itself. Until now that is. Out of Credos, the Advertising Association’s recently founded think tank, comes a new piece of research that tackles the attitudes of 10-21 year-old girls and their mothers towards advertising manipulation. On the face of it (the results have yet to be formally published), the mums seem a lot more outraged than their daughters, who display a cynical insouciance towards the whole business.

In a spirit of mischievous inquiry, AdMatters – the AA’s online house magazine – has decided to extend the parameters of Credos’ research to all comers. Equally mischievously, I pass on their proposal:

“We at AdMatters would like to conduct some research of our own. The Credos survey asked girls aged 10 to 21: which of the models below would you use in an ad aimed at “people like you”?



“Now we’d like to hear from you, our loyal readers. We care not what age or gender you are, merely that you are a person and buy things. Choose your favourite (1-4, left-right) and tweet @ad_association, with #bikinis. Results may or may not be published.”

The ASA gives Rimmel falsies a proper wigging

November 24, 2010

At last, a palpable hit in the regulator’s ongoing skirmish with the beauty industry over authenticity in its advertising. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned a campaign for Rimmel mascara, on the grounds that it uses ‘falsies’ to achieve misleading results.

The campaign for 1-2-3 Looks was devised by JWT and, in the TV versions, featured model Georgia May Jagger swaggering down a catwalk and getting on a motorbike. The voiceover claimed “adjustable lash volume from light to dramatic…three hot looks in one mascara”. And the ad, which includes two print versions, showed Jagger’s eyelashes growing longer in three stages.

The trouble is the effect was not achieved by the mascara, but by three sets of separately sized lash inserts. The ASA concluded that Coty UK (owner of Rimmel) “did not make it clear that the lash inserts used were of different lengths.” The ads were neither honest (CAP 3.1, substantiation) nor truthful (BCap 5.1.1, misleading advertising). There were a lot of other things the ads were not as well, but two of the four fundamental tenets of the advertising code will do for now.

So, bang-to-rights you may conclude. But it was not ever thus. The beauty industry has a habit of confusing truth with fantasy (it is after all in the business of peddling dreams). And the ASA has not always been so vigilant in cracking down on it. I refer to a previous post on the curious case of Cheryl Cole’s preternaturally bouncy hair extensions, which made their appearance in a campaign for Elvive shampoo and conditioner. Like the Rimmel ads, the client ran a small on-screen disclaimer that all was not what it appeared to be (in Rimmel’s case the warning was “shot with lash inserts”). Unlike the Rimmel ads, the ASA chose to give Cheryl and Elvive a clean bill of health.

The ASA will no doubt counter that different technicalities were involved. But the two situations have an uncanny similarity. Part of the thinking in cracking down on one campaign but not the other must surely be that the climate of opinion is changing. See, for example, the evolving debate over airbrushed models in advertising.

At all events, it looks as if the beauty industry will have to up its game: sloppy, misleading assertions will no longer do.

Debenhams brushes off the past, Burgess loses his Local Jewels, Loaded is spent and Foster’s will get funnier

August 23, 2010

Four thoughts on a week spent away:

1. Debenhams has irrevocably hitched itself to the voguish positioning of “natural beauty” pioneered by Unilever’s Dove – with its decision to bannish “air-brushed” fashion models. The department store has been making a number of gestures in this area recently – for example, using a size 16 and a disabled model. But this latest initiative looks definitive.

Debenham’s rallying to the cause raises some embarrassing issues for other elements of the fashion industry which, shall we say, have been less forthcoming on the permissible limits of artifice in projecting an advertising image both unrealistic and unattainable. L’Oréal, for instance, seems entirely comfortable with lightening the skin pigment of rock star Beyoncé Knowles. And let’s not forget the vexed case of Cheryl Cole’s preternaturally bouncy hair extensions, which featured in an Elvive campaign. The Advertising Standards Authority gave Cheryl a clean bill of health. But I cannot help thinking this was a wrong call, out of step with the times. What Dove and Debenhams are doing is the thin edge of a wedge fast being driven into a post-production fixated fashion industry.

2. Now Unilever’s “Local Jewels” really have lost their setting. The departure of Matt Burgess, UK managing director of Marmite, Peperami, Pot Noodle, Bovril and Slim-Fast, seemingly brings to a painful conclusion Unilever’s interesting Chrysalis project, which was formally dissolved last month. Like its architect James Hill, Burgess has moved elsewhere in the organisation. Details remain sketchy, but he would – lucky man – appear to be assuming responsibility for integrating the Radox, Brylcreem and Sanex brands offloaded by Sara Lee into Unilever’s skincare division. Not without a last hurrah, however. The crowd-sourced Peperami ad, described in greater detail by Louise Jack on Pitch, may not be to everyone’s taste. But it’s a wake-up call to agencies.

3. IPC’s willingness to dispose of Loaded, a nineties best-seller, is a reminder of how much the lad’s mag phenomenon has been butchered by the internet. According to the most recent Audit Bureau of Circulations figures, Loaded lost over 26% of its circulation in the last year. That may be a disaster, but it’s by no means a unique one. FHM, now owned by Bauer Media, lost about 18%; while the weeklies Zoo (Bauer again) and Nuts (IPC again) plunged 22% and 17% respectively. From Phwoar! to Uh-ah! in less than 20 years.

4. While on matters laddish, was I alone in being underwhelmed by Adam & Eve’s first stab at refashioning the Foster’s campaign? To the untutored eye, it looked very much like a seamless continuation of the hackneyed stuff that has been pouring out of M&C Saatchi these past few years. Where was the simple Big Idea the client claimed had won A&E the account?

Now we know. Simple, but brilliant. One-off remakes of some of our best-known laddish comedies – Alan Partridge and the The Fast Show have been mentioned – using where possible the original writers, producers and stars; all inexpensively posted on the internet. And all intended to build on Foster’s title sponsorship of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards and Channel 4 comedy. Let’s see how the idea catches on.

Coke mired in legal wrangles over Glaceau Vitamin Water and Dr Pepper

July 26, 2010

Dr Pepper isn’t the only Coca-Cola brand to cause offence to consumers. Glaceau Vitamin Water is now facing a federal class action in the United States, which could end up costing the corporation millions of dollars and considerable damage to its reputation.

Glaceau is notorious for its “irreverent” (for which read “silly”) and cynical posturing. But that’s not what has landed Coke in deep water, or not overtly. Some folk evidently believe Glaceau has been peddling phony health benefits when, in reality, it is nothing more than sugar water with a few vitamins thrown in. In other words, far from preventing “age-related eye disease” (as the brand has claimed), its only durable side-effect is to make you fatter, if you consume enough of it.

The stakes are higher than they seem. Success for the plaintiffs would make Coke appear little better than a huckster apothecary hawking snake oil. But it will be years before we know the result – in all probability.

While on legal matters, I hear things have turned nasty at Coke over the Dr Pepper digital foul-up. Lean Mean Fighting Machine, the agency responsible, has resorted to lawyers after Coke decided to terminate its newly-won Diet Coke account without (as LMFM sees it) adequate financial compensation.

UPDATE 27/7/10. Legal fisticuffs have now ceased on the Dr Pepper/Diet Coke accounts, with LMFM and Coca-Cola agreeing to go their separate ways.

Katie Price perfume causes a stink

June 15, 2010

Will this scandal of wage slavery in India – so diligently dug up by The Observer – ruin the brand equity of the glamour model also known as Jordan? I think not.

Katie Price was never very fragrant in the first place and – in fairness – never set out to be. Hard-boiled yes, arguably mercenary, but not a hypocrite. The perfumes in question – Stunning and Besotted – are the woman: overpowering, unsubtle but strangely memorable. There’s a vulgar, almost disarming, candour to her self-diagnosis of success: “Some people may be famous for creating a pencil sharpener. I’m famous for my tits.” No one could accuse her of trying to rescue the developing world from poverty; she’s just out to make money while she can.

The hypocrisy lies elsewhere. I wonder how many other celebrity essences are bottled and marketed in flasks produced for the equivalent of 26p an hour? They may not have had the benefit of media exposure yet, but you can bet that Superdrug will at this minute be doing some long overdue diligence on the branded wares of, for example, Sarah Jessica Parker, Britney Spears, and Maria Carey to verify they are as robustly ethical as the high street retailer would have us believe.

I understand that the Pragati Glass Company, which manufactures the offending Price perfume bottles, has closed down its operation in India and switched production to much more expensive premises in the UK and France. Why ever do that? Surely it should have taken a leaf out of Apple’s book. Confronted with irrefutable evidence that it was paying its Chinese workers a pittance and driving them to suicide, Foxconn –  main supplier of the iPad and iPhone – reformed its working practices and doubled employees’ wages. That must be a lot less harmful to Apple’s margins than repatriating production – and has the added merit of sustaining employment in a developing economy.

Shane Warne, Cheryl Cole, Gordon Brown and a spate of bad-hair advertising

November 25, 2009

It must be national bad hair week and I hadn’t noticed. Nothing else would seem to explain the explosion of hair-related controversies in the media.

Most recent is the shocking case of Australian cricket legend Shane Warne’s hair loss. He and his follicularly-challenged partner in crime Graham Gooch have just been banned. But not, you’ll be glad to hear, from playing cricket. No, it’s much more trivial than that. The Advertising Standards Authority has cracked down on an ad created for trichologist Advanced Hair Studio – promoting its laser therapy and “strand by strand” technology – to whom our two sporting heroes have been lending not only their prestige but their balding pates.

I’m a little at sea over why the ASA has taken two years to reach such a Draconian verdict. After all, the ad doesn’t actually say that AHS cures hair loss.

Which moves me neatly on to hair crisis number two: the case of Cheryl Cole’s false locks. How come that Elvive can get away with plying a palpably false impression of bountiful, bouncing, natural hair, while AHS isn’t even given the benefit of a few reimplanted strands? The answer, as so often, lies in the small print. The ASA found in favour of Elvive because it provided subliminally small disclaimers about Cheryl’s hair not being entirely her own (quite a lot is nylon, I gather). This is not, I’m afraid, a finding which sits happily within the ASA remit of  upholding “legal, decent, honest and truthful” advertising. Such dishonesty is more widespread in cosmetics advertising than we would like to believe.

The third bad hair advertising controversy is not so much a case of fairness as of silliness. I refer to the opening rounds of our forthcoming general election campaign and the two stunningly original poster ads it has so far produced: one for the Conservative Party (Euro RSCG) and one for Labour (Saatchi & Saatchi), both pillorying each other as the Jedwards, whose twin misfortunes are to have been evicted from the X-Factor, and to be burdened with a hairstyle that must make Shane Warne think twice about the wisdom of hair implants. The ASA won’t be allowed to touch these ads, more’s the pity.

When L’Oréal went beyond the pale

June 25, 2009

115The quality of subbing in our national newspapers these days! Imagine my interest when I read in The Times ‘L’Oréal found guilty of racism in shampoo ads’. Was this a re-run of that shameless ploy at Ogilvy & Mather all those years ago, when they  ‘glocalised’ a Ford print ad for the Polish market by whiting out all the black employees’ faces?

In fact, L’Oreal had done no such thing. What had actually happened – according to the body copy below the headline – was that a L’Oréal subsidiary, Garnier, had been found guilty in France’s highest court of fielding a white-only female team to sell its Fructis shampoo into French supermarkets. Despite the company’s feeble defence that Black, Asian and Arab women would be less able to articulate the product advantages, L’Oréal seems to believe France is a (not very latently) white supremacist society.

By way of postscript, the guilty sub was on to something – if only subliminally. Because L’Oréal does have form in manipulating its ads. Last year, it had to furiously back-pedal after being accused of tampering with Beyoncé Knowles’ skin tone to make her look paler for a Feria hair highlighting ad appearing in Elle’s US edition.

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