UK ASA: Thou Shalt Not Airbrush

In two adjudications that have attracted much media attention (here and here), the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned two magazine ads for foundation makeup for using digitally altered pictures. One of the ads, promoting Lancôme's Teint Miracle foundation, featured a photo of Julia Roberts and said that "instantly complexion appears naturally bare, beautifully flawless and luminous". The other ad promoted Maybelline's The Eraser and featured an image of Christy Turlington with the foundation applied to part of her face only, so as to show the effects of the product; small print stated that the image was an "illustrated effect". A British Member of Parliament complained saying she believed the images had been digitally manipulated. Brand owner L'Oreal (UK) Ltd defended the ads, saying that Julia Roberts' skin looked flawless in the Lancôme picture due to a combination of her naturally healthy skin, flattering photography by Mario Testino and the application of Teint Miracle. L'Oreal noted that although Christy Turlington's photo in the Maybelline ad had been digitally retouched, fine lines, crow's feet, expression lines and pores were still visible even on areas where The Eraser had been applied. The ASA acknowledged that both Christy Turlington and Julia Roberts were well known for their natural beauty, and that the public would appreciate that they would have been professionally styled, made-up and photographed for the ads. However, the ASA was concerned that the effect of post-production techniques that had been applied to both photos was not clear; it could not establish whether Ms Roberts and Ms Turlington's pictures were an accurate (as opposed to exaggerate) representation of the results that the products could achieve. There has been growing criticism of the widespread use of "airbrushing" in pictures featuring in women's magazines and in advertising. These decisions suggest the ASA is willing to take a fairly strict position with regards to "aspirational" pictures in cosmetic advertisements; this may be particularly the case for products such as foundation, where the concealment of imperfections is central to the promotional claims. The ASA expects that where photos have been digitally altered in post-production, it should be clear what has been touched up so that potential customers may properly evaluate the visual demonstration of the product's results. – Richard Dickinson

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