Complaints to the ASA about anti-ageing products continue to come in thick and fast. This case even featured a complaint that the ad was offensive to ladies of a certain age. Louise Ball reports.
Topic: Health & beauty
Who: Procter & Gamble (Health and Beauty Care) Limited ("P&G")
When: 4 March 2009
Where: Advertising Standards Authority ("ASA") Adjudication; BCAP Code: 5.1 (old); 5.2.2 and 6.1
Law stated as at: 31 March 2009
P&G's lotion "Olay Regenerist" was advertised on television with the following endorsement from a beauty journalist:
"Women who aren't ready for cosmetic injections constantly ask me to recommend a skin cream that really works. So I was excited when this study, revealed at the World Congress of Dermatology, showed that pentapeptides are effective in reducing the appearance of lines and wrinkles. So if you're not ready for cosmetic injections, but want dramatically younger-looking skin, try Olay Regenerist with pentapeptides."
The ASA received 46 complaints.
Some complained that the ad was misleading or offensive by implying that cosmetic injections were a natural or inevitable next step for women as they got older.
Some challenged whether as implied in the ad, the same effects could be achieved by using the advertised lotion as with injections.
One complainant queried whether there was sufficient scientific evidence that pentapeptides were effective at reducing the appearance of lines and wrinkles.
The same complainant challenged whether the mention of a paper presented at the World Congress of Dermatology misleadingly implied that the findings of that paper were supported by the scientific community.
Social attitudes to ageing
In January 2008, P&G had commissioned independent research as to attitudes towards ageing and using invasive procedures to delay the signs of aging. Of the 2,000 women surveyed, 25% said that in the future they would consider for example, cosmetic injections or "fillers", but only 4% admitted that they had actually undergone such procedures.
Accordingly on the complaint that the ad was offensive for suggesting that cosmetic injections were an inevitable next step for ageing women. the ASA responded that most consumers would understand that Olay Regenerist was being presented as an alternative to cosmetic injections. Whilst it acknowledged that the ad may have been distasteful to some, the ASA concluded that it was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.
So this complaint was not upheld.
To counter the challenges to its research, P&G reported that they had performed a 2-week, double blind, placebo-controlled randomised clinical study, assessing a moisturiser control and the same product with added pentapeptides.
The results were subjected to analysis and self-assessment reports from participants were also documented. In P&G's opinion, all the data showed a significant reduction in fine lines and wrinkles for the product containing pentapeptides.
On the other hand, the ASA's independent expert found that differences between the observed changes in the control product group and the peptide containing product group were small at all stages of the trial. The expert said he did not consider those changes were sufficient to support the claim that pentapeptides were effective at reducing the appearance of lines and wrinkles. In fact, during the self-evaluation study, the test subjects themselves reported no overall effect for the pentapeptide containing product. Such results fell far short of the "dramatically younger-looking skin" claim made in the ad.
Accordingly on this count the complaint was upheld.
"World Congress" reference should have been handled with more care
With regard to the complaint that the reference to validation by a paper presented at the World Congress of Dermatology misleadingly implied that the findings were supported by the scientific community, the ASA again upheld the complaint.
The ASA's investigations established that the presented "paper" was not scrutinised by scientists but took the form of two posters presented by P&G and their pentapeptide supplier at the WCD.
Consumers unfamiliar with the procedures at such meetings might well infer that the "findings" presented had the approval of a wide scientific community and as this was not the case the ASA felt it had no alternative but to find for the complainant on this count.
Why this matters:
A review of recent ASA adjudications in this area reveals that unrealistic assertions about anti-ageing products are not uncommon. This is not perhaps surprising given the competitive market and its predicted growth as we live longer.
Manufacturers and agencies are aware of the boundaries set out within advertising. They have also recently been helped, as reported on marketinglaw.co.uk in January 2009, by guidance contained in a "Framework of Common Understanding" published by the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association after discussions with the ASA.
Nevertheless, with the prize of increased market share on offer, perhaps we will continue to see ads like this one – perhaps it's our response to growing older which needs to change?