Say it ain’t so!
Yes. Advertising has been known to be over the top and, sometimes, untrue. Whether it was the Volvo ads from a few decades ago that induced a lawsuit because they claimed elephants could walk on their (reinforced for the commercial) cars without crushing them or airbrushing bodies to make beautiful people even, umm… more so, the limits have been pushed to “prove” a point or grab attention. So, it’s a little silly that the first US ad to be pulled due to pressure from the Better Business Bureau’s National Advertising Division is all about Taylor Swift’s eyelashes.
Don’t get me wrong. I think that all advertising should not tell lies, but sometimes you’ve got to fake it to make it real. Why else would there be so many Los Angeles streets that are wet during car commercials when it hardly rains in LA? Why is it a known tool of the trade to add corn starch to liquid foods in commercials to make them look creamier for the camera? Why else do actors and opera singers wear such exaggerated make-up features on stage? You’ve got to be able to convey the product in a way that can be seen and noticed in an instant.
In the case of P&G’s Cover Girl mascara ad featuring Taylor Swift, there’s no way to have the lashes read without doing something. Perhaps the faux pas was their admittance that photoshopping had something to do with it by placing “Lashes enhanced in post-production” in small print. They should be able to present their product in a natural way, but will anyone be able to read it? Additionally, it is questionable that anyone who believes that by using any beauty product they will look like the model in the ad is grounded in reality. P&G’s placement of the line in small print seemed like an honest attempt to present what they were doing honestly. Might it have been better for them to place in small print “You may never look this great” in the ad?
Not to make light of it, but the organization that called them out on the ad has somewhat of a scary name. The National Advertising Division is an internal watchdog – effectively keeping things clean from the inside. The name itself elicits comparisons to nefarious organizations both real and fictional. When you look at their site, it is filled with recommendations about advertising across the spectrum. Many of the claims seem to be solid from a technical standpoint – like Coppertone’s claim that a product protects consumers from 100% of UV rays. But, most everything relates to contextual claims, not imagery used in the advertising.
Which comes back to the original concern. If digitally altering an image is grounds for it to be removed or presenting products in staged situations makes it false advertising, we’re in trouble. I understand that making claims about what beauty and health products can do is dangerous and not good. But, isn’t it understood that the nature of that advertising in itself is unreal? Who’s going to have the lighting that’s in the pictures?
Advertising is essentially a form of storytelling and entertainment. As such, there is a necessity to accentuate elements in unreal ways. The product’s features need to be true, but they’ve got to be treated in such a way to get a point across. If there is going to be a backlash on ads like this, then perhaps having celebrities in those ads don’t make sense either. Either way, their effectiveness will be diminished.
Perhaps the small print needs to be more on point like I partially joked about above – sort of like all the horrible side effects that some drug ads warn us about. It’s debatable whether P&G handled this properly, but I’ve got to give them credit for even including the small print in the first place.
I’m a guy and I’ve got nice, long eyelashes, but there’s no way in hell I’m ever going to look like Taylor Swift and I don’t need an oversight division to protect me on that point.