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National Ad Division Goes After Retouching of Beauty Ads

Post-production enhancement of beauty advertising has been standard operating procedure from the age of the air brush to the age of Photoshop, but an action seen by some as long overdue from the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus against Procter & Gamble Co.could change that.

The NAD today announced that P&G had discontinued superior-performance claims and a post-production-enhanced photograph in print advertising for its CoverGirl NatureLuxe Mousse Mascara after the industry self-regulatory forum launched an inquiry into the claims and photos. Taylor Swift has appeared in the product's print and TV ads, from WPP's Grey Global Group.

While advertising regulators in the U.K. have aggressively gone after beauty ads with retouched images for years, this appears to be a first in the U.S. and a signal that the NAD plans to begin monitoring the practice, said Chris Cole, an attorney who specializes in advertising law for Manatt Phelps & Phillips in Washington. From a legal standpoint, retouching photos so they create a misleading impression of product effectiveness is clearly prohibited, he said.

But competitors in an industry where post-production work is commonplace haven't challenged one another's ads up to now, said beauty consultant Suzanne Grayson.

That the NAD has stepped in to challenge the practice on its own is significant and could have far-reaching impact, Mr. Cole said.

"In a way I'm not surprised, to tell the truth," he said, noting that the issue is one likely to appeal to NAD senior VP and director Andrea Levine.

In a statement, the NAD said it requested substantiation from P&G for express claims that the CoverGirl product produced "2X more volume" vs. bare lashes and was "20% lighter" than the most-expensive mascara. It also considered whether the ads conveyed the implied messages that consumers who use the product would get lashes like those depicted and that the lashes depicted were achieved solely by using the CoverGirl product. The ads at issue did bear the disclaimer "lashes enhanced in post production."

The NAD said that P&G, upon receipt of the initial inquiry, said it has permanently discontinued all of the challenged claims and the photograph in its ads.

"It is well established that product demonstrations in advertisements must be truthful and accurate and cannot be enhanced," the NAD said. "Consequently, NAD appreciated the advertisers action, which NAD deemed necessary and proper." A P&G spokeswoman said in an email statement: "Upon receiving the inquiry from the NAD, P&G discontinued the advertisement in question. The NAD has deemed our intervention as accurate and proper. We have always been committed, and we continue to be committed, to featuring visuals and claims that accurately represent our products' benefits."

"Everybody does it," said Ms. Grayson, regarding the use of post-production in beauty ads, adding that retouching of lashes in mascara advertising has become particularly aggressive in recent years.

"It's been more aggressive by manufacturers, because they see what other people are getting away with, and it becomes, 'Can you top this?' " Ms. Grayson said.

"I'm amazed that it hasn't happened sooner," Ms. Grayson said of the NAD inquiry. "We're going to sell honestly now, right?"

The issue of doctoring of beauty ads came to the fore in, of all things, advertising, in 2006 with the "Evolution" viral video for Unilever's Dove from Ogilvy & Mather, Toronto. Ironically, Dove came under scrutiny two years later when a post-production artist for famed photographer Annie Liebovitz claimed in a New Yorker article that he'd retouched older women extensively in a campaign for the Dove Pro-Age product line, an allegation Ms. Liebovitz never addressed.


Jack Neff, Advertising Age. December 15, 2011

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