The National Advertising Division has recommended that L’Oreal should stop the use of eyelash inserts in mascara advertisements that make quantified performance claims, or explicitly inform consumers in the main message that the model featured is wearing lash inserts.

The NAD requested substantiation for claims made in print and Web site advertising for two products: Maybelline “Rocket” mascara and L’Oreal Paris “Telescopic Shocking Extensions.”

Express claims for both products – such as “8X Bigger. Smoother. Even.” for Rocket and “Length + Impact Without Extensions. Now surround lashes base to tip for the high-impact look of extensions from a mascara” for Telescopic – had a reasonable basis and passed the self-regulatory body’s scrutiny.

However, NAD found that the ads conveyed implied claims that consumers who used the mascara products would get lashes like those depicted in the images, which were not achieved solely by using the promoted mascara.

The NAD ruled in a prior case that in the context of a quantified performance claim, the use of artificial enhancement to plump up a model’s lashes constituted a false demonstration. “NAD sees no reason to come to a different conclusion here where the lashes are artificially enhanced by adding volume, physically rather than digitally, through the use of lash inserts.”

Because the model in the Telescopic ad used only “two or three” individual lash inserts, the NAD determined that the lashes shown in that advertisement were not artificially enhanced and were therefore an accurate depiction of the product’s performance.

But the self-regulatory body reached a different conclusion when considering the messages implied by the Rocket ad, rejecting L’Oreal’s argument that cosmetic advertising should not be held to the same rule as other industries because consumers understand that stylized “glamour shots” are just visuals, not intended to represent typical consumer results. Or, more succinctly: Consumers do not expect to look like the model featured in the ad.

L’Oreal commissioned a consumer perception survey which the advertiser said demonstrated its contention. While finding that the study was reliable and well-controlled, the NAD said that it actually proved the opposite point, “that the image does, in fact, convey a performance benefits message and is relevant to the net impression created by the advertisement as a whole.”

Respondents agreed that the mascara would increase the volume and thickness of their lashes. Rather than recognizing that the model was wearing fake eyelashes, the respondents indicated that they would have different results than the ad because their lashes were different than those of the model. Just three out of 206 respondents referenced fake eyelashes.

“It is clear that the image of the lashes does, in fact, convey a message to consumers regarding the product’s performance capability,” the NAD wrote. “Further, although the express performance claims promote the ability of Rocket mascara to produce lashes that are ‘8X Bigger,’ the photograph is not an accurate depiction of the volume that can be achieved by applying the mascara alone without the use of lash inserts, thus it is literally false.”

A “tiny disclaimer” at the bottom of the page noted “lashes styled with inserts” but was insufficient and directly contradicted the message conveyed by the advertisement, the NAD noted.

“NAD is simply restating what the law requires – that when you make a performance claim for mascara and include a photograph depicting a woman wearing the mascara, the picture should not be enhanced by artificial means – either digitally or physically.”

Therefore, the NAD recommended that L’Oreal discontinue the use of lash inserts in mascara ads that make quantified performance claims or state clearly that the product is being used in conjunction with artificial lashes in the main part of the ad.

The decision also cautioned the company “to ensure that future images used in connection with claims for [Telescopic] ‘lengthening’ mascara do not include the use of any lash inserts which enhance the length of the model’s lashes or otherwise artificially enhance any other attribute of the eyelashes expressly promoted in the advertisement, or to clearly disclose, as part of the main claim, that the model’s lashes have been artificially enhanced.”

In its advertiser’s statement, L’Oreal said that it planned to appeal the decision to the NARB.

“The photo is a professionally styled depiction of a glamorous and fashionable model; it is not presented as a product demonstration that invites consumers to rely on their own visual perception of the model for proof of quantitative claims appearing elsewhere in the ad.” It also objected to NAD’s recommendation regarding future Telescopic ads, which L’Oreal said “mandat[ed] the content of hypothetical future advertising.”

To read the NAD’s press release about the decision, click here.

Why it matters: The self-regulatory body emphasized that the decision “is not suggesting that the beauty industry take the ‘beauty’ out of cosmetic advertising. That would be a loss for the industry, as well as for consumers who enjoy seeing glamorous advertisements featuring products that can help them look their very best. Further, the cosmetics industry (like the food and other industries) is free to use expert stylists and excellent lighting and models blessed with unusually long or voluminous eyelashes to create a ‘beauty shot.’ ” With the case on appeal to the NARB, L’Oreal will get a second shot.