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Lights, Camera, Action …
Oops Let’s Do A Retake!

by Theresa Callaghan

Theresa Callaghan PhD
Skin Care Scientist and Cosmetic Product Claim Specialist

In this month’s column we take a look at live facial imaging used in advertising on tv home shopping networks and promotional videos, and how they can, unwittingly, be misleading to vulnerable consumers. Furthermore, it could be that we are missing something too! Having found myself disconnected from the digital world for a day, I sought some catch-up “education and entertainment” by watching cosmetic “infomercials” on a variety of home “teleshopping” channels. “Entertained”, is probably not the correct word to use, but suffice to say the time spent watching these product sales pitches, made me wonder how, as an industry, we overlook their misleading nature, often only seen by eagle-eyed consumers and trouble-shooters like myself.

Let’s start with the bathroom mirror.
“I know you believe you understand what you think you see, but I am not sure that you realise that what you see, is not what you are meant to see.”

This is advertising. We say this to consumers constantly. Confused? I am. Not believing in fairy tales and fully aware that the mirror lies, the position of the bathroom/dressing room lighting, window (if you have one), and the degree to which you drop or raise your chin, will either “age” you horribly or make you look
much “younger”. Yet, is this what you really see, and how real is it?

When product developers use photographic images to lend weight to their body of evidence supporting their claims, we drum it into them that those images, and therefore the claim(s), must not imply something that isn’t true. When comparing beforeandafter images for product effects, they need to be precise and certainly not manipulated! We have all laughed at the expense of, e.g., Aesthetician attempts at imaging, so proudly and embarrassingly presented on their websites and in the press. Quality cosmetic companies employ specialised imaging equipment available at some of our more credible CRO’s. The precise nature of these systems can pick up fine skin (and hair) details often unseen with the naked eye. When capturing “after” images, volunteer faces are easily repositioned exactly to fit with the “before” image, and thus avoids “misleading”. However, standing in front of the mirror at home is a wholly different scenario.

It makes sense that the average consumer can’t pick up the minutiae of detail seen by cameras, but they do believe what they are seeing in front of them!

When they apply skin care, makeup, hair styling products, etc., consumers move their head frequently – back-and-fore, side to side, up and down. They pull their faces too. In doing so, they will have an “image” of themselves which is dependant on both lighting and positioning of the mirror. The “quality” of that image is also dependant on their eyesight, what they are wearing, their self-esteem that day, whether they are a narcissist, or a “happy-golucky” individual.

So, what about TV shopping? Glossy hair conditioners or moisturisers, telesales pitches are a lucrative business. During the Covid crisis, internet shopping and teleshopping sales boomed. As to my own “education” on that enforced digital-free day, what intrigued me most was not the photographic “stills”, but the actual “live” model applying a skin cream, and a hairdresser vigorously grooming hair like they would a beloved pet dog.

In the skin cream example, and depending on how you perceived them, the before-and-after “stills” could, with effort, convince you of the claimed product benefit. This, despite one image being ever so-slightly enlarged, so as to “imply” an improved effect. You needed an eagle-eye to catch it ! Correctly, all images shown, albeit in very small print, had a footnote summarising the study. They were also “representative” of the thirty volunteers involved in that study. I personally do not like the so-called “thirty volunteer standard” for consumer-use studies1. In clinical studies, where volunteers are recruited for technical measurements with an add-on of sensory in-use perceptions, thirty volunteers may be fine – up to a point, and dependant on statistical inputs. It depends on the weight of evidence you require supporting your body of evidence. Whether, it’s an advert on general television, or
a shopping channel, consistency in volunteer numbers should be the same across all media. The UK’s Clearcast2 system for general TV advertising demands this.

Returning to the “live” model, the “before” image was of course a “still”. Glaring at the camera, they wore no makeup, lighting was grey in tone, and they pursed their lips in a hard “angry sulk”, so as to exacerbate “sun-and-smoke” lines. To be honest it made their skin seem “dirty” – deliberately was my conclusion. With the “live” application, the model had favourable lighting, smiled throughout product application, and moved their head around in the same way as they would do so in a bathroom mirror. Worryingly, the model was wearing makeup, which perfectly colourmatched the presenter.

“Instant results”, is a familiar claim of many of today’s cosmetics, after all consumers today have no patience. Is our clever formulation skill of combining hydrators, tighteners and light reflectors, really a successful business strategy? Is it “honest”, even though we actually “see” the effects? Did this particular home shopping scenario actually “mislead” the consumer? Is it even relevant to the consumer? There is, in my view, no black-and-whiteright-or-wrong answer. On the one hand, the studio cameras and lighting provided an advantage to the “live” product application, with the model behaving as they would at home. Though I admit, putting a moisturiser on over makeup is pretty gross. Yet, on the other hand, I will argue the “live” advert is misleading. For “honesty” and “truthfulness” compliance of the “imaging”, according to EU Cosmetic Regulation3, the “live” model should have struck an identical pose as in the “before” product application “still”. They should have had the same lighting, not moved their chin upwards or side-to-side into a favourable position, or for that matter, changed their expression. Yet, this viewpoint too raises another question – isn’t this what consumers do at home, once they’ve bought into the claims they’ve “observed” on TV?

Photographic imaging to support provision of “weight” to the collective body of evidence in claims development, is clearly a tricky affair. The majority of CRO’s do this well because of the quality of imaging systems they employ. Others do not. Photographing large cohorts of volunteers in consumer-use studies presents a challenge, not least study compliance. For teleshopping channels, internet videos, etc., the rules by which “live” advertising takes place requires consistency4. Although there has been much debate with the various advertising standards authorities, a Clearcast type-system or similar, would be highly beneficial. Furthermore, and in the meantime, there should be more enforcement and levelling-up of the current home shopping networks own regulations5. A better understanding of how the consumer behaves in front of the mirror should possibly be given some consideration, and balanced against the “honesty” of claims, when
providing images “live” versus “still” into the body of evidence for claims — especially on the home shopping networks and internet videos.

1 Blaak, J. , Keller, D. , Simon, I. , Schleißinger, M. , Schürer, N. and Staib, P. (2018) Consumer panel size in sensory cosmetic product evaluation: A pilot study from a statistical point of view. J. Cosmet Dermatol Sci Appl., 8, 97-109. doi: 10.4236/jcdsa.2018.83012.
3 EU Commission Regulation (EU) No 655/2013 of 10 July 2013 laying down common criteria for the justification of claims used in relation to cosmetic products.
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Theresa Callaghan
Skin Care Scientist and Cosmetic Product Claim Specialist

Based in Hamburg, Dr Theresa Callaghan has international career spanning more than 30 years, having worked for a number of well-respected personal care companies at the senior level including LVMH-Dior, Unilever, Marks & Spencer, J&J, Evonik and proDERM. In 2008 she set up her own consulting business, anticipating a need for more discipline of cosmetic claims, and furthering  scientific developments involved in that process. As a scientist and the author of the popular book Help! I’m Covered in Adjectives: Cosmetic Claims & The Consumer (available from Amazon) Callaghan is also widely published with more than 120 papers. She gives regular workshops and presentations internationally and is a major contributor for peer-reviewed and trade journals, as well as authoring behalf of clients internationally. Theresa is also a lecturer on the MSc course for Cosmetic Science at the university of Sunderland (UK).
In addition she has appeared in number of press articles, interviews and podcasts and even has her own website and YouTube channel for cosmetic claims.

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