A new Help Note was published on 4 April 2011 by the UK bodies that write the Advertising Codes—the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP)—to provide greater clarification on the use of pre- and post-production techniques in cosmetic adverts.  

BACKGROUND

The Note covers three main areas: (i) pre-production techniques, (ii) post-production techniques, and (iii) qualifications or disclaimers.

In general terms, the Note advises that advertised claims should not exaggerate misleadingly the effect a product is capable of achieving. The Note is not, however, intended to restrict the use of obvious exaggeration that is not to be taken literally, or the use of stylised images, such as diagrams or cartoons, that illustrate a concept rather than any actual potential benefit.  

PRE-PRODUCTION

The use of pre-production techniques such as styling, make-up, lash inserts, hair extensions, etc., are acceptable without explicit disclosure provided such techniques do not mislead. Techniques that are likely to mislead include

  • “Before-and-after” images where only the “after” image had used pre-production techniques.
  • The use of lash inserts that are longer/thicker than the model’s natural lashes or do more than replace damaged/missing lashes.
  • The use of hair extensions/inserts, unless the effect is achievable on natural hair.
  • The use of false/artificial nails where the benefit claimed is other than purely decorative (e.g., claims for nail strength, length, shape).

The guidance also lists pre-production techniques that are unlikely to mislead, including the use of styling and make-up generally and the use of techniques where the effect is not directlyrelevant to the advertised product; such as lash inserts for non-eye area cosmetics.

POST-PRODUCTION

The Note suggests that the use of post-production techniques such as the re-touching of photographic images requires particular attention. It advises advertisers to retain appropriate “before” and “after” images showing the effect of both pre- and post-production techniques as appropriate.

Re-touching related to any characteristics directly relevant to the apparent performance of the advertised product is likely to mislead. One is example is the removal/reduction of the appearance of wrinkles around the eyes for an eye cream advertisement.

Post-production techniques that are unlikely to mislead include

  • Minor adjustments to correct for lighting problems and other photographic issues.
  • The removal of a few hair “fly-aways”, even in advertisements for hair care products as long as the product is not for fly-away hair.
  • The removal of skin blemishes, provided this does not affect the impression given of the effectiveness of the product.

QUALIFICATIONS AND DISCLAIMERS

If the advertisement is inherently misleading, it remains so regardless of any superimposed disclaimer or qualifier. If the advertisement is inherently truthful, such superimposed text is unnecessary. However, the Note does concede that there may be times when a superimposed comment usefully clarifies some aspect of the advertisement. If so, it should be clearly legible and placed appropriately.

COMMENT

One of the main objectives of the Note according to CAP Secretary Shahriar Coupal is “to equip advertisers with the necessary tools to help them get their ads right; helping to produce ads that comply with the Codes in preference to taking action against those that do not.” If complaints are received concerning an advertisement that fails to follow the guidance, the Advertising Standards Agency will expect the advertiser to justify why they did so and explain why the advertisement does not mislead as a result.