With impeccable timing (depending on your viewpoint) the 2007 silly season kicked off with a media frenzy over supposedly false eyelashes in a L’Oreal ad for mascara featuring former Tom Cruise partner Penelope Cruz. Anna Montes looks behind the lashes.
Topic: Health and Beauty
Who: L'Oreal (UK) Limited
When: 25 July 2007
Where: United Kingdom
Law stated as at: 15 August 2007
The Advertising Standards Authority ("ASA") was asked to review TV and press advertising issued by L'Oreal (UK) Limited ("L'Oreal") to advertise its "Telescopic" mascara product. Both advertisements featured the actress Penelope Cruz and focused on how the mascara brush works to separate eyelashes.
The TV advertisement featured a close-up of Penelope Cruz's eyelashes as she said "So separated. So long. Imagine, lashes that could reach for the stars." The voiceover message then focused on the "high-precision flexible brush" that comes with the mascara product which is said to separate eyelashes with precision and "lengthen" lashes for "telescopic length".
As is common for such cosmetic advertisements, the advertisement then featured various close-ups of the actress wearing the product and showed images demonstrating the motion of the applicator brush. On-screen text appeared at different stages of the advertisement carrying statements such as: "High-precision"; "Flexible brush"; "Separation lash by lash" and "Up to 60% longer". The press advertisement also referred to the fact that the mascara product could deliver longer lashes and its message contained the text: "…up to 60% longer lashes and definition lash by lash…Telescopic length: The flat surfaces stretch the formula towards infinity…".
One complaint received
The advertising campaign resulted in just one complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority ("ASA") and the reason for the complaint was that it was believed Penelope Cruz was wearing false eyelashes during the filming of the TV advertisement and for the photographs used for the print advertisement. The complainant therefore challenged whether the advertisements were misleading as they exaggerated the lash length that could be achieved by using the product.
In response to the complaint, L'Oreal argued to the ASA that the claim "up to 60% longer lashes" was substantiated by both scientific and consumer data and a laboratory report on the lengthening properties of the product was amongst the evidence submitted by L'Oreal in its defence. Furthermore, L'Oreal explained that the tips of eyelashes are fine and almost invisible to the naked eye and this is how mascara can make the tips more visible, thereby giving a lengthening effect. L'Oreal explained that the visual improvement to lash length resulting from the use of the product as demonstrated in the TV advertisement corresponded to a length increase of 60%.
False lashes confession
However, L'Oreal did also admit to the ASA that Penelope Cruz was wearing a few individual false lashes inserted into her natural lashes to fill in the gaps in her natural lashes for a "consistent standard" of lashes. Penelope Cruz and the make-up artist used for the advertisements also submitted signed affidavits to this effect. The Telescopic mascara product was then applied over these lashes. L'Oreal sought to argue that many women wear false lashes as part of their beauty routine and up to 60% longer lashes could be achieved by using the mascara, irrespective of whether lashes underneath the mascara are real or artificial.
The ASA was not persuaded and it upheld the complaint against L'Oreal's advertising. It considered the evidence sent by L'Oreal to support its claim that use of its mascara product led to "up to 60% longer lashes" and noted L'Oreal's belief that up to 60% longer lashes could be achieved irrespective of whether lashes were real or artificial. Indeed, L'Oreal argued, the claim was intended to refer to the perceived increase in lash length, rather than an actual extension in the length of lashes, because lash tips were more visible after the application of mascara and that made lashes 'appear' longer.
However, the ASA was concerned that only at a late stage in its investigations had L'Oreal appreciated the importance of disclosing that Penelope Cruz was wearing individual false lashes and not, as had earlier been implied by the complainant, a full set of false eyelashes. The ASA was also concerned that the advertising did not make it clear to consumers that lashes would only "appear" to be up to 60% longer and believed that some consumers could misinterpret the claim as to mean an actual extension in the length of lashes would be achieved by using L'Oreal's product. The images of Penelope Cruz wearing individual false lashes in the advertisements were deemed by the ASA to exaggerate the effect that could be achieved by using the product on natural lashes.
The ASA therefore reached a decision that the ads could mislead consumers because:
- they did not feature a disclaimer making it clear that Penelope Cruz was actually wearing some individual false lashes with her natural lashes; and
- the advertisements did not make it clear to consumers that the claim that lashes would be 60% longer referred to an increase in the "appearance" of lash length not "actual" length lash.
L'Oreal was therefore held to have breached rule 5.1 of the CAP Broadcast (TV) Advertising Standards Code and rules 3.4 and 7.1 of the CAP Code. L'Oreal was instructed to include a disclaimer in all future advertisements featuring models wearing false eyelashes, irrespective of whether those lashes were individually inserted to bring lashes to a consistent standard or whether they were a full set of false lashes. Future advertisements also need to make it clearer that claims such as that lashes will be "up to 60% longer" refer only to the "appearance" of the lashes.
Why this matters:
This is not the first time that L'Oreal has been accused of using models wearing false eyelashes within its advertising campaigns. In 2002 there were two similar complaints relating to two different campaigns, one of which related to its Maybelline mascara products. In both cases, the complainants concerned believed L'Oreal's advertising exaggerated the effects of its mascara products because the models used seemed to be wearing false eyelashes.
In each case L'Oreal adduced evidence by way of affidavits signed by the models and make-up artists concerned to confirm that false eyelashes had not in fact been used. In these cases, the ASA was satisfied that the advertisers had not used false eyelashes and did not object to the advertisement.
Following the latest complaint against L'Oreal advertising, beauty experts are recorded in the press to have said that the L'Oreal advertising illustrates the pressures cosmetic companies are under to make the most of their products within a competitive market, particularly when cosmetic advertising has large budgets and therefore high expectations associated with it. The techniques used by L'Oreal to enhance the natural eyelashes of its models are apparently standard in the industry and L'Oreal has sought to stress that many consumers also wear false lashes.
However, claims that can be misleading due to exaggerations amongst other things are not permitted, whether the advertiser puts a misleading positive slant on research results or uses a misleading visual product demonstration that exaggerates the effects of a product or its material characteristics. If L'Oreal and others fear that having disclaimers on their advertising stating that models featured are wearing false eyelashes will appear to consumers as if they are somehow cheating, then they must certainly only pick models with voluminous natural lashes from now on!