Mascara false (lash) advertising


Andrew Adam Newman

The Sofia Vergara Cover Girl ad has also come under fire.

The Sofia Vergara Cover Girl ad has also come under fire.

In recent years, thanks in part to the rise of Latisse, the prescription drug that promises longer eyelashes, and the refinement of false lashes, a full fringe around the eyes has come to be one of beauty’s holy grails.

Which may be why, when it comes to advertising, mascara marketers have been laying it on a bit thick. A recent print advertisement for a line of Maybelline mascara, Volum’ Express the Rocket, features the model Freja Beha Erichsen, her eyelashes impressively voluminous. Thanks to a ‘‘patented supersonic jumbo brush’’ that ‘‘loads on big, sleek volume instantly,’’ the copy reads, the mascara offers lashes that are ‘‘8X bigger.’’

But something besides mascara is giving Erichsen’s eyelashes a boost: She’s wearing lash inserts or extensions, as falsies are also known. And that’s why the ad recently brought a stinging rebuke by the National Advertising Division.

The Freja Beha Erichsen Maybelline ad, which has come under fire recently.

The Freja Beha Erichsen Maybelline ad, which has come under fire recently.

In a decision issued Sept. 6, investigators wrote that the ad was ‘‘literally false’’ because ‘‘the photograph is not an accurate depiction of the volume that can be achieved by applying the mascara alone without the use of lash inserts.’’


Fine print at the bottom of the ad discloses that the model was ‘‘styled with lash inserts,’’ but the ruling stated that it was ‘‘axiomatic that disclosures that contradict or substantially change the main message in an advertisement are inadequate to prevent inaccurate consumer takeaways.’’

The ruling concluded that Maybelline, a L’Oréal U.S.A. brand, should discontinue the use of lash inserts in mascara ads or disclose their use prominently.

Maybelline is appealing the decision to the National Advertising Review Board, which, like the National Advertising Division, is part of the ad industry’s voluntary self-regulation system. Both bodies are administered by the Better Business Bureau.

In an email message, Rebecca Caruso, the executive vice president of corporate communications for L’Oréal U.S.A., wrote that the fine-print disclosure was adequate. ‘‘Women know that the product’s results will differ for reasons such as their own personal features and makeup techniques,’’ Caruso wrote. ‘‘They do not expect to look like the model in the ad.’’

Sydney Thibault, a long-lashed 22-year-old who wears mascara daily (her favorite is bareMinerals Flawless Definition Mascara by Bare Escentuals), is one such savvy consumer. ‘‘I’ve never seen a disclosure, but I’ve definitely thought those aren’t real eyelashes,’’ she said of dramatic mascara ads. ‘‘I’m not angry about it, but it’s unfortunate that some girls are going to buy it and be disappointed.’’

Bonnie Patten, the executive director of Truth in Advertising, a nonprofit group that addresses false advertising and deceptive marketing, went further. ‘‘If you’re going to sell me a product based on a photograph, then that photograph needs to be truthful,’’ Patten said. ‘‘You can’t assume that I have a degree in how many lashes a normal person has in her eyes.’’

Maybelline’s is not the first mascara ad to draw criticism. In a 2011 National Advertising Division case, for example, Procter & Gamble agreed to discontinue a print ad for CoverGirl NatureLuxe Mousse Mascara, featuring Taylor Swift, in which her lashes, as was noted in fine print in the ad, had been ‘‘enhanced in post-production.’’

In 2012, the Advertising Standards Authority in London banned a Diorshow New Look mascara print ad for digitally enhancing the lashes of Natalie Portman; in 2010, it banned a Rimmel 1-2-3 Looks ad for using lash inserts on Georgia May Jagger.

Andrea Levine, the director of the National Advertising Division, said that cosmetics ads had drawn more scrutiny in the last decade because they had made increasingly bold performance claims.

Advertising watchdogs first chided anti-aging products for claiming that they achieved results comparable to cosmetic surgery, requiring Olay Regenerist Eye Derma-Pod to stop using ad copy that had said, ‘‘Imagine becoming your own eye specialist,’’ in 2007, and Lancôme Paris High-Resolution Refill-3X to stop using copy that had said, ‘‘Refill wrinkles in just one hour!’’ in 2009.

Levine said that photographs in mascara ads, like those for other cosmetics that tout performance claims, now functioned as product demonstrations, such as those that show how much fluid a paper towel can absorb. ‘‘With that comes the responsibility that the photo substantiates those express claims,’’ she said.

In its mascara investigations, the National Advertising Division has validated all express claims, including that Maybelline mascara can make lashes eight times thicker, but has cited the brands on what it calls ‘‘implied claims,’’ like that consumers who apply mascara (and nothing else) will get lashes like the model’s in the ad.

The latest mascara advertising singled out for using lash inserts is a CoverGirl Clump Crusher Mascara campaign featuring the model Sofia Vergara, cited by the National Advertising Division on Sept. 25. A print ad disclosed in fine print that lash inserts were used, but the ruling stated that such disclosures were inadequate.

‘‘What the big type says,’’ Levine said, ‘‘the small type can’t take away.’’

Unlike Maybelline, which is appealing a similar decision, Procter & Gamble, which makes CoverGirl, agreed to eschew fake eyelashes in mascara marketing or disclose that they are being used in the main body of ads. Laura Brinker, a Procter & Gamble spokeswoman, said that the company was among the first to disclose using lash inserts even in fine print, and that it had ‘‘taken a leadership position’’ in agreeing to be more transparent in the future.

Patten, of Truth in Advertising, said that while a bit of manipulation in cosmetics advertising might seem a trivial matter, there were consequences. ‘‘If all this mascara is so great, I don’t understand why they need to use lash inserts,’’ she said.