Are cosmetics brands finally to be accountable for bad advertising practices?


With health and beauty being the third most complained about sector in advertising, will the CAP’s new guidelines satisfy consumers?

According to an article in Which? magazine in September last year, health and beauty is the third most complained about sector in advertising. Complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) regarding this sector rose 14% between 2008 and 2009 and 52% between 2009 and 2010.

But who can blame these brands for trying their luck, when the ASA treatment of such tactics has been inconsistent to say the least. While in 2007 L’Oreal was banned for using lash inserts for a campaign featuring actress Penelope Cruz, it was cleared when similar complaints were raised in May 2010, this time around lash inserts used on actress Freida Pinto. L’Oreal’s narrow escape revolved around a defence that the lash inserts were not bigger than Pinto’s own lashes.

Meanwhile, in December 2009, the ASA also rejected complaints against L’Oreal’s use of hair extensions on singer Cheryl Cole as she paraded around celebrating her hair’s new found “mojo”. Again, the ASA meekly let L’Oreal walk away laughing, as the brand had cleverly squeezed some teeny weeny writing in at the bottom of the ad as a disclaimer against the extensions.

These are just some examples of the bad advertising practices that have incurred consumers’ wrath, not to mention the countless other complaints attracted by cosmetics brands singing the praises of their genius new life changing product, through unfounded claims and manipulated statistics.

This is why I find it quite surprising that despite such consumer backlash, it was only this week that the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) published its guidelines around best practice for this industry.

With health and beauty being the third most complained about sector in advertising, will theCAP’s new guidelines satisfy consumers?

CAP’s helpfully titled “help note” contains guidelines for practices that are likely to mislead: using before and after images where the after image uses pre-production techniques, using lash inserts that are bigger than a model’s natural lashes when advertising mascara, reducing lines and wrinkles on a model’s face when advertising face cream, and the excessive use of hair extensions when advertising haircare products.

Makes sense to me. Why should the beauty industry be allowed to sell their products under such blatant pretences? And why has this industry turned such a blind eye to consumer dissatisfaction – made evident by the amount of repeat brand offenders you’ll see cropping up repeatedly in the ASA’s archives, the likes of L’Oreal, Avon, Rimmel, Olay, Body Shop and Johnson and Johnson to name just a few.

So what are these brands to do now? Maybe actually rely on the effectiveness of their products?

Or maybe they will watch and learn as new cosmetic brands emerge with selling honestly being their USP. It might sound ridiculous, but it seems to be working, given the track record of its more established rivals.

French brand Make Up For Ever’s new High Definition foundation is grabbing headlines all over the fashion world for its claims that it is the first make up brand to refrain from retouching its models in its advertising. So far it is getting the thumbs up from fashionistas, make up artists and consumers.

Let’s hope Make Up For Ever now doesn’t come under fire from the ASA for lying about not retouching. That would really take the cake.