Shock news this week of yet another beauty brand being taken to task by the ASA, this time for claims that their tummy tuck product doesn’t, it seems (brace yourselves here) give the effect of an actual tummy tuck.
I could name names but frankly, that’s not really the point. That particular ad may have been canned, but we won’t be surprised or shocked when another few spring up to replace it, especially as we approach the summer holiday season, when even the most intellectually ample among us have been known to stockpile any product with a transformational claim, in the hope that it will work a little bit of magic.
And it’s the size of the gap between fact and fiction that’s crucial here – as well as the price we’re paying. We’re all willing to involve ourselves in a little suspension of disbelief (I’m unlikely to lose sleep over the fact that my prawn cocktail-flavoured crisps don’t taste much like that much-maligned 70s starter, for example). I’m happy to buy a cream that hints at relaxing or moisturising properties, or a fragrance that classes itself as fresh and youthful. But it does rankle when products are only bought (and for an inflated price) on the basis of a statement that’s misleading, unsubstantiated, or falsely represented by an image that has nothing to do with the stuff that it’s advertising.
It also rankles that expressions such as ‘tummy tuck’ are becoming normalised, as if we should simply accept cosmetic procedures as a natural part of our maintenance and grooming. Don’t get me wrong; it’s up to each and every one of us where we draw the line, and I’d fight until my last breath for any women to choose to do anything she wants as long as it does no harm to others. But in my magazine Editor days, I was very careful not to blur the boundaries by featuring surgical procedures on our ‘beauty’ pages, and making women feel as if it was the next logical step.
Wouldn’t it be better to promote a product by pinpointing exactly what it is that we want to know about it, and then sharing it with us? If you’ve spent years in a laboratory creating the perfect conditioner for frizzy hair, or a great waterproof mascara that actually did the job, wouldn’t it be an idea to tell us about it, and show us how best to use it – with real language, using real women or real body parts? Instead, though, we’re served up hair extensions and false eyelashes to seduce us into buying haircare and mascara. Don’t brands want us to truly understand the benefits of their products? Or is it that many are not even listening hard enough to develop the products that we actually want?
More and more, it seems as if the genuinely engaging and enlightening brand conversations are happening outside of the old-school advertising budgets. If Lauren Luke and her many imitators can show us how to put on mascara, why have the mascara brands been so slow to cotton on? If TV production companies understand the power of a makeover, why isn’t this reflected in many advertising concepts aimed at women.
The truth is, it’s easy to get women to bond over shared experiences and the pooling of knowledge. There’s nothing we like better than passing on information, tips and recommendations (and we’re also quick to do the opposite if something doesn’t live up to expectations or promises). So why do we see so few facts – and so many half-baked truths, in advertising that’s aimed squarely at us?
And don’t try telling us that buying a new shampoo is a form of escape, and that we don’t really expect to look as glossy-haired as the gal in the ads after using it. We want results, not spin. We welcome information and knowledge, not disclaimers in the small print (if that). Frankly, we reckon we’re worth a bit more thought.