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The People vs Rimmel

Kate Nicholls takes a one woman stand against false advertising in the beauty industry - and so can you...

Published on November 29th 2010.


The People vs Rimmel

I took particular delight this week to see that the advertising watchdog the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), has banned the maker of Rimmel London’s ‘1-2-3 Looks Mascara’ from running the commercial again, following one complaint which argued that the ad’s use of lash inserts was misleading for consumers. And the reason for my pleasure? That one complaint was lodged by me.

Today, to see my complaint upheld, and subsequently reported across international media, I feel a sense of satisfaction and achievement. One friend even likened me to Erin Brockovich (although, should this story make it to the silver screen, my vote for the lead goes to Drew Barrymore).

I’m not normally one for such campaigning, but after seeing the TV and magazine ads earlier this year, starring Georgia May Jagger, my blood boiled. The ads showed Mick and Jerry’s daughter in three shots with progressively longer and thicker lashes in each - an effect that makers Coty Ltd claimed was achieved by turning a dial on the mascara. In reality the result was so blatantly attained by an increasing number and length of lash inserts that, if it hadn’t angered me so much, would probably have made me laugh out loud.

Today, to see my complaint upheld, and subsequently reported across international media, I feel a sense of satisfaction and achievement. One friend even likened me to Erin Brockovich (although, should this story make it to the silver screen, my vote for the lead goes to Drew Barrymore).

The fact that the ASA only received one complaint, suggests that consumers are so accustomed to this kind of false advertising that they literally don’t even bat an eyelash. But from the comments I have read over the past few days on the various websites that carried the story, and the discussions I’ve had with friends, I don’t believe this can be true.

‘I’m sick of commercial pictures promoting an image that’s unattainable in real life’, said one. Another wrote: ‘It’s false advertising, and I’m tired of the outright manipulating. This should be against the law.’

The general consensus appears to be that consumers have truly had enough of being deceived. We want to see the real product and the real result, not the effects of props and Photoshop.

However, some took a more unsympathetic view of the situation, with one commenting: ‘Anyone who actually takes any notice whatsoever of mascara ads deserves to waste their money. If you can't figure out that they're all talking rubbish then you're as stupid as the rest of them.’

I find this kind of response almost as worrying as the issue itself. Yes, this person, along with many of us, may be big enough and ugly enough to see through these ads, but unfortunately there are kids growing up who are vulnerable to the power of advertising. As one reader commented, ‘It's so obvious that these models are wearing false lashes, but probably not to very young naive women who will buy this stuff wishing for those fake lashes.’

The problem is that ads purporting to give such fantastical results are all part of the wider effect that idealised media pictures are having on body image - particularly in young people. Although Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson, the co-founder of the Campaign for Beauty Confidence, welcomed the ruling she also warned that the beauty industry “has a long way to go in promoting honesty in the content of the pictures it uses, rather than presenting totally unachievable aspirations of beauty and faked images."

No doubt the beauty industry does have a long way to go, and there is no magic mascara wand to be waved. But we, the consumers, can surely help the industry get there quicker, if we start standing up for our right not to be misled.

I would urge anyone reading this who agrees, to contact the ASA next time you see an example of such dishonesty from advertisers. The process of lodging a complaint can be done on the ASA website via an online form and, as I can attest, taking this short amount of time to stand up for the truth can and does have an impact.

For more information on how to log a complaint with the ASA, please visit www.asa.org.uk.

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