Iain Murray: Sticky wicket for celebrity who squared up to the ASA

The ASA told Advanced Hair Studio to substantiate claims in its ads or drop them. Despite Gooch running the gauntlet, the ASA had to split hairs, says Iain Murray

There must be times when those who work at the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) are made powerfully aware that we are not put on Earth for pleasure alone. Even those who start the day with a spring in their step must deflate at the sight of a morning mailbag bulging with collected, sorted and delivered outrage, anger and disappointment. Nor can it be much fun to confront the snake oil salesmen, confidence tricksters and smutty punters who provoke the complaints.

So one can forgive the ASA the rare occasions when a certain testiness clouds its brow. I may be wrong, but I sense that it was on just such an occasion that the authority passed judgment in the case of Gooch and the Hairpiece.

A brief summary of the facts may be in order. Since 1995, Graham Gooch, the former England and Essex cricketer, has endorsed the products and services provided by Advanced Hair Studios. These involve replacing lost hair with a kind of poultice constructed from human hair, which is stuck to the scalp. Its properties include powerful adhesion and a persuasive resemblance to the hair that was lost. In fact, so tenacious is the hold of the device that its wearer can swim, shower and play sport without risk of emerging with a hairy eye patch or bristling earmuff. That, at any rate, is the claim made by Advanced Hair Studios and vouched for by Gooch.

Ours, however, is an imperfect world, and what works for a former England cricket captain may prove less effective on a different head. That was the experience of Mr Andy Evans, 39, an IT consultant from Macclesfield, Cheshire. His replacement hair moved around his scalp like a wandering nomad, occasionally leaping right off.

“Several times the toupee split and came away from my head,” he says. “I had to be careful nothing touched against it and that it did not come off. I used to try to patch it up with double-sided sticky tape. It was like something off of Blue Peter.”

And so, on one of those mornings when the world skulks beneath a graphite sky and the breakfast egg is bad, the ASA found in its mailbag a letter from Mr Evans. One can imagine its effect upon its readers: here was a man twice afflicted, first by cruel Nature, which had taken his hair, and then by human error, which had equipped him with a mobile wig.

The ASA ruled in his favour, agreeing that a hairpiece attached precariously to the pate by means of double-sided sticky tape would not permit its wearer to swim, shower and play sports and emerge from those activities unchanged. However, being a fair-minded body, the ASA asked the advertisers not to repeat the claim unless they could provide substantive documentary evidence to prove it.

Rising to the challenge, Advanced Hair Studio invited its most famous advocate to provide the proof. Mr Gooch was happy to oblige. He dived into the pool of the Mayfair Intercontinental Hotel and, according to eye-witnesses, emerged with every hair in place. He was then joined in the pool by two attractive young women in bikinis, hired to dunk him under water, smiling sweetly as they did so. This made a better picture for the papers than Gooch would have done submerged unaccompanied. Again, he surfaced with all his hair on. He then worked out in the gym for 20 minutes before vigorously showering and shampooing. All tests were passed. A triumphant vindication, you might think, of the advertiser’s claims.

But no, the ASA was not to be budged. Gooch’s diving, plunging, sweating and shampooing counted for nought. With a prim shake of its head the authority insisted that the company had failed to substantiate the boast “Swim, shower, play sport? No problem.” Which seemed hard. How many other celebrities would have shown such loyalty to the companies that hired them, or avowed such faith in their products? Would those female TV stars who promote financial products put their money where their grinning mouths are? Would Thora Hird attend a photocall and ascend gracefully in her stairlift should, heaven forbid, its claims be challenged? Well, yes, being an old trooper, she probably would. But she and Gooch are trustworthy exceptions. The involvement of most celebrity endorsers ends when the cash is safely trousered. So it does seem a pity that Gooch’s efforts went unrewarded. Or did they? How much, I wonder, was the PR worth?

Coverage in the national press with editorial confirmation that Gooch’s borrowed hair was as good as its word must have been worth a bob or two to Advanced Hair Studios. It must surely have brought in a few new customers. Just as in his playing days when Gooch was the envy of many a man who could but dream of striding out to the middle at Lord’s and knocking off a century before lunch, so must that latest appearance have evoked a wistful fantasy. Oh to be in Mayfair, playfully gambolling in an azure pool, a semi-naked nymphet on either arm, a full complement of hair arching between either ear. It beats turning up for work on a dull January morning to face an in-tray overflowing with allegations of illegality, indecency, dishonesty and untruthfulness.

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