And you wonder why people think admen are untrustworthy?

mce_markerLast week I spoke on LBC about the issue of retouching images of both men and women to an extent that they portray a false image to consumers.

Jo Swinson, Liberal Democrat MP, after getting the ASA to ban a series of over retouched ads, pointed out that this has a dangerous effect upon vulnerable young minds, who aspire to look perfect, or worse, feel inadequate because none of us can look like theses unrealistic images. As a founder of the ‘Campaign for Body Confidence’, she and fellow campaigners are trying to rebalance years of fake imagery.

Priory to my piece she spoke about magazine covers…hang on, we aren’t responsible for those. I commented, “Don’t just blame us for what magazines and the fashion industry does – many ads that use fake images are not done by ad agencies but in-house. We aren’t to blame for cover images and editorial”. But as usual, we get demonised. However, it does beg the question, as an industry how often do we challenge clients who want to lie?

Well, much to LBC’s surprise I didn’t defend the practice but supported the banning of retouched images. I have kids too. And I’d hope no one with a shred of morality in our industry would.

From an ethical view point, this is lying and I think we should stamp down on fake images and dubious claims, especially those made by anti-aging products. Why do we need to lie, Dove has seen record growth in sales because it based it’s campaign for real beauty on… well, real beauty.

What about fellow Unilever brand Lynx, I hear you say, surely that claims you can pull even an angel? Here I think we are in the world of tongue in cheek fantasy, and consumers can tell the difference.

But I’ve just seen a TV ad for a tooth whitener that is way over claiming it’s power to whiten teeth, if the programme I saw last night feature Gok (How to Look Good Naked) is truthful. He got loads of viewers to test teeth whiteners and most thought they were useless. So why has the Clearcast allowed this ad to run? Or many other cosmetic TV ads featuring dubious claims? Do we need tighter regulations?

Instead of just focusing on the negative maybe critics would like to focus on a commercial that highlights the dangerous effects of this culture of fake images, produced by an ad agency. Last year Girl Guiding conducted the ‘Girls Attitude Survey’ and highlighted the vast number that would undergo a medical procedure to look better in a powerful ad. Watch it at:

If you have been following the news, this story all revolves around the ASA banning heavily airbrushed foundation adverts by L’Oreal for Maybelline and Lancôme following a complaint by ‘Campaign for Body Confidence’. I’m not surprised, I’ve commented before of L’Oreal’s and other brand’s obsession with false imagery. It was coming.

The ASA said that images, featuring actress Julia Roberts and model Christy Turlington, were extensive digital retouching so were deemed likely to mislead. Likely? There’s no likely.

To quote Jo, “This ruling demonstrates that the advertising regulator is acknowledging the dishonest and misleading nature of excessive retouching. Pictures of flawless skin and super-slim bodies are all around, but they don’t reflect reality. With one in four people feeling depressed about their body, it’s time to consider how these idealised images are distorting our idea of beauty.

“Shockingly, even the ASA weren’t contractually allowed to see the pre-production photo of Julia Roberts.  It shows just how ridiculous things have become when there is such fear over an unairbrushed photo that even the advertising regulator isn’t permitted to see it.  Excessive airbrushing and digital manipulation techniques have become the norm, but both Christy Turlington and Julia Roberts are naturally beautiful women who don’t need retouching to look great. This ban sends a powerful message to advertisers – let’s get back to reality.”

This must have created a real crisis for cosmetic companies, and especially those selling anti-aging products that are dubious at best in their claims to make you look younger. In my articles on “Brand Terrorism’, I have highlighted how even small campaign groups can bring down multi-million dollar ad campaigns. L’Oreal, and the rest, must be wondering what to do next because every ad is now under the Photoshop microscope.

To quote Italian photographer, Stefano Buonamici, “Today’s unrealistic idea of what beauty is means that young girls are under even more pressure now than they were a couple of years ago. Airbrushing means that adverts contain completely unattainable and perfect images that no one can live up to in real life. We need to help protect our younger generations from these pressures and we need to make a start by banning airbrushing.”

I remember sitting in a meeting with a dubious American client (back at Saatchi’s) who kept complaining to the account man about why his TV ad for an anti-aging product wasn’t being allowed to run on the UK. “If it’s good enough for the States, it’s good enough for this backward island” he said with a tone of arrogance you’d only expect in a movie. Finally the account man snapped, “The reason it can’t run here is simple. In American you can lie. In the UK you have to tell the truth and this product is a pack of lies.” The client said nothing.

Personally, I totally support any campaign for more truth in advertising, though can we extend it to the media as well because they are much worse than us – just look at the scandal of Grazia retouching Kate Middleton in her wedding dress to look slimmer.