With all the talk around the importance of trust and credibility, especially in relation to brands and celebrities, why is it that the advertisers responsible for creating campaigns for leading cosmetic brands choose to ignore these lessons and continue to use post-production techniques to enhance products, giving the illusion of unachievable results?

The main culprit usually getting into hot water with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) as well as regularly receiving public condemnation is L’Oréal. Opting to use disclaimers that are vaguely legible on most of its promotional materials, lines such as “enhanced during post production” or “styled with natural inserts” are all too familiar to the cosmetics giant. This is now standard practise in product advertising for many cosmetic brands and L’Oréal is by no means an exception.

A couple of the most recent cases include the L’Oréal Elvive Full Restore 5 advert which features Cheryl Cole, along with her false hair extensions. During the advert, a message flashes on screen for fewer than two seconds out of the 30 second advert to alert viewers that Cheryl’s hair is ‘styled with some natural extensions’. The ASA rejected viewer complaints about the inability of achieving the same results as the disclaimer was apparently clear and legible, and did not break any rules. Procter & Gamble brand, Olay, also recently received viewer complaints for airbrushing Twiggy in the Olay Definity Eye Illuminator advert. As the product claimed it could help women achieve ‘younger looking eyes’, the ASA ruled that it could be deemed as misleading.

So what effect does what can arguably be described as misleading advertising have on consumer perceptions of such brands? Edelman’s 2010 Trust Barometer suggested that in the UK especially ‘a company I can trust’ (72 per cent) is the top driver for corporate reputation in the UK, followed also by ‘high quality products and services’ (62 per cent). This being the case, one would assume that public opinion and trust in cosmetics brands would have diminished – but surprisingly not according to sales figures. L’Oréal in particular reported that its profits beat market predictions in H1 FY09, and global demand for products continues to increase. It seems consumers are not ready to stand-up to these brands and continue to strive for perfection, no matter how deceptive adverts continue to be. 

The ASA published a health and beauty survey towards the end of last year which reported that 95 per cent of cosmetics adverts comply with regulations. Ironically the five per cent of adverts that breached the code were identified to contain a lack of sufficient scientific evidence to back up claims, exaggerated claims about the efficacy of products, or contained misleading claims. Surely more than five per cent of adverts could be included in these categories? 

These brands should take more responsibility for the messages they develop and align them correctly with product capabilities instead of making unachievable claims. Or is it up to the ASA to tighten regulations and critique adverts before they go on air? Or maybe it’s up to consumers to stop buying in on ridiculous claims?