Cosmetic Advertisement + Photoshop = Deceptive Advertising?

August 4, 2011

By Cassandra A Soltis

In a decision that could have implications in the United States, the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”), which describes itself as “the UK’s independent watchdog” that regulates advertising, found both a Lancôme and a Maybelline advertisement misleading because the images of the models, which were digitally retouched, were not accurate representations of the results that the products could achieve. 

The Lancôme advertisement for “Teint Miracle,” a foundation, included claims that the product “recreates the aura of perfect skin.  Instantly complexion appears naturally bare, beautifully flawless and luminous, as if lit from within.”  The ASA stated that the advertisement was misleading because, although “the product was capable of improving skin’s appearance,” the evidence did not show “that the ad image accurately illustrated what effect the product could achieve, and that the image had not been exaggerated by digital post production techniques.” 

The ASA came to a similar conclusion regarding Maybelline’s “The Eraser” foundation advertisement, which included claims such as “covers” fine lines and “conceals” crow’s feet as well as a disclaimer that the image of the model was an “Illustrated effect.”  The ASA noted that “the area around the model’s left eye had been digitally re-touched and . . . the text had drawn particular attention to the product’s effect in this area.”  The ASA stated that the ad was misleading and “must not appear again in its current form,” even though the advertiser had consumer testing results showing the public “agreed with the claims.” 

On this side of the pond, the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau (“NAD”), which is a similar self-regulatory body in the United States, reviewed an advertisement for one of Maybelline’s “Eraser” line of cosmetics and came to a slightly different conclusion.  NAD Case #5241, Maybelline New York Inc., Instant Age Rewind Eraser Treatment Makeup (Nov. 10, 2010).  The “Instant Age Rewind Eraser Treatment Makeup” advertisement included claims such as “Erase fine lines” and “crow’s feet,” along with a close-up shot of a model’s face that was digitally altered.  The ad qualified the claims with a statement that the product “[d]oesn’t just cover; after 8 weeks of use reduces imperfections without makeup on.”  In addition, the disclosure “visual is a dramatization of actual product results” appeared at the bottom of the ad.

The NAD was concerned that, despite the disclosure that the visual was a dramatization, the digitally altered image showed the complete elimination of age-related imperfections.  However, because the ad qualified the “Erase fine lines” and similar claims with the text “reduces imperfections,” and the advertiser’s consumer survey showed that 68% of the respondents thought that this was the ad’s message, the NAD concluded that the photograph could still be used in future ads but recommended that the “visual dramatization” disclosure be removed and replaced with “a disclaimer clarifying the results which consumers can expect to achieve.” 

Given the publicity that the ASA’s Lancôme and Maybelline rulings have had here in the United States (for example, see here and here), and the increased concern about the digital manipulation of ads generally, it will be interesting to see whether the NAD will take a different approach in reviewing digitally manipulated ads.

Categories: Cosmetics