Remember that survey we did recently on the claims brands make for their products, how you guys feel about them, and what you’d like brands to do? Well ladies, here’s the results. I’ve delved deep, analysed the stats and talked to a couple of experts with opposing views. Let me know your thoughts in a comment.
We women seem to be locked in a never ending battle with our beauty products. So immersed in scientific jargon, buzz-words and our sometimes lofty expectations, it often feels like cosmetics give with one hand (many of us enjoy making a new purchase that might, just might, make that crucial difference) and take with the other (er, it didn’t really do what it said it would). We seem to be engaged in what amounts to a game of cat and mouse with the brands whose coffers we fill. And we’re the ones feeling like the mice, by the way.
We’re increasingly annoyed about the claims brands make for their products. In the past couple of years, there have been high-profile cases taken by the British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) on behalf of consumers against beauty behemoths like Proctor and Gamble and Estee Lauder. Both companies were ordered by the body to remove misleading advertising. Acting on consumer complaints, a TV spot for Olay Regenerist was banned because the ASA upheld complaints that Olay claimed the cream could deliver the same benefits as anti-wrinkle injections. Estee Lauder received a similar ad ban for claims they made about Tri-Aktiline Instant Deep Wrinkle Filler.
More recently, cosmetics company MAC were scarlet for themselves when it was revealed that the visuals for their Colour Craft collection were not, in fact, created using the products in the range. Rather, a brand called Ben Nye was called into play to make the lush, colourful looks used for the model shots. Which, um, were what customers were referencing when they decided to buy the products. And that’s not the end of it: Avon was also been slapped on the wrist by the ASA for exaggerating claims it made for one of its mascaras, and the list goes on.
Does this mean we now intrinsically mistrust the companies whose products we buy?
Not according to our recent reader survey. 279 of you took part, and a whopping 78% of you all said that while you do trust beauty brand claims, it depends on the company. Aha. So, who’s got a good rep? For us Beaut.ies, salon- and pharmacy-led Dermalogica, La Roche-Posay and Vichy topped the polls. Clinique, with its science-led focus, and Estee Lauder also did well, as did No 7, who continue to grow customer confidence off the back of the highly-publicised clinical trials they conducted with Manchester University for their Protect and Perfect Intense serum.
If those brands are in favour with us then who’s out? Guess. Oh go, on, I’ll give you a hint: anyone who uses lash inserts in their advertising. L’Oreal Paris fell foul of this particular trick last year when ads for its Telescopic mascara, starring Penelope Cruz, were criticised heavily for their use of additional false lashes. “When you see mascara advertisements you can clearly see that the model is wearing fake eyelashes. I know that the mascara is not going to give that effect and it puts me off buying it,” said one survey respondent, and there’s plenty more criticism where that came from too.
Excessive airbrushing, use of Photoshop, pseudo-scientific jargon and celebrity spokesmodels were almost unanimous points of animosity. “I get the distinct impression that a lot of beauty companies think women are idiots and will be sucked in by the promise of ‘smoother skin’ or ‘younger looking skin’,” said a respondent, with others adding “stop using celebrities who have been airbrushed to within an inch of their lives and using lingo that no one has heard before,” “stop airbrushing so much! Stop promising the earth – a bit of realism is necessary,” and “explain why their product does what they say it will using scientific reasons explained simply – either on a leaflet in the product or online. Don’t use makey-uppey science using pseudo-scientific names that treat us like we’re so easily convinced and won over. Work for our attentions.”
It almost seems like beauty companies can do whatever they like, and to hell with the consequences. But according to Anna Boyle, group product manager for the Vichy and La Roche-Posay brands, that’s not the case. “Ireland and the UK are very strictly regulated in terms of what a brand can communicate, and we’ve never had a problem with consumer complaints,” she says, pointing to the fact that both brands are pharmacist-created, with a no-nonsense and factual ethos. “We’ve kept that message,” Boyle confirms. But it’s not altruism on their part – Vichy and La Roche-Posay, like other brands, have to work closely with regulatory authorities like the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the UK, who carefully monitor what they can and can’t claim.
“There is a huge amount of cooperation between brands and the MRHA, and more and more thought is being put into the meaning of the words we use on products,” Boyle says. “The rules and guidelines have tightened and I think that’s great as it provides clarity to consumers. For example, we can’t use the word ‘slimming’ on a body product, as the MRHA have ruled that this is a physiological condition.”
Another point in both brand’s favour is the fact that they’re very hot on clinical trials, so they can back up what they say with statistical data. “We asses using tools that are measurable so that we can objectively communicate on a result,” she says. Studies range in size from 55 to 500 women and are conducted by independent dermatologists. “The wider the sample the better, as then the results will be more precise” Boyle reveals.
If you’re still disenfranchised with the marketing-speak of the beauty brands, then there’s no doubt we’re in a brave new world for consumer rights. The increasing reach and availability of the internet has allowed us to moan like never before, and the proliferation of beauty blogs, forums and consumer review websites all allow people to connect and share opinions on a global scale. That means we’re more informed and can make better choices about all sorts of products we buy, not just those from beauty brands.
One of the web’s fiercest critics of the press-release jargon so many cosmetics companies bandy about is Jane Cunningham, a journalist who’s behind the highly respected – and feared - British Beauty Blogger blog. Find it at britishbeautyblogger.blogspot.com and marvel at Cunningham’s refusal to kow-tow to companies who send her product for review.
Quick to call big business on dubious claims or over-hyped products, she’s got some words for us too. “Consumers need to arm themselves with knowledge and not be such an easy target,” she says. “I think companies carefully word their claims so we are either baffled by science (can anyone say straight off what a Pentapeptide is?) or led with clever words to a point of probability that makes us feel on balance X skin cream will be probably be better than Y.”
Blogs have become such a source of information for women because they’re generally run from a kitchen table by impartial beauty junkies who don’t have to worry about offending advertisers, so they tell it like it is. Women want their information from trusted sources, and 83% of you stated that you trusted blogs and the recommendations of friends and family over any other source. Cunningham agrees: “I see more and more comments from readers saying if they want to know what a brand is really like, they check the beauty blogs.”
But that still leaves us in a bit of a quandry. Brands on the one hand are heavily regulated so they actually can’t out-and-out lie to us, and if we don’t like the claims being made in advertising, we have recourse through the Advertising Standards Authority. On the other hand, consumers are angry, confused and disillusioned with jargon-led marketing patter. The solution, thinks Cunningham, lies in a willingness on our part to do a bit of legwork. “Educating consumers in ‘beauty speak’ is the best way to allow for informed choice,” she says. “I think consumers make assumptions that beauty brands are only too happy not to disabuse!”
So while there’s an onus on us to arm ourselves with knowledge, brands have some inroads to make too. We asked you guys to tell us what you think beauty companies should do in order to prove themselves more trustworthy. 25% want strict rules for advertising images and text and 20% would like to have easy access to information from clinical studies and trials.
But what you overwhelmingly want is more access to trial sizes, with 27% saying there should be better access to samples and advice on beauty counters. You’re wise to endless launches and know not everything is going to be the next big thing, so you want to check it out before you commit. “Supply more samples. It is unrealistic to spend €30 on something that you mightn’t like when you get it home,” said one reader who took the survey. “Sampling is something that all brands could improve on,” said another, with a third replying “it doesn’t even have to be samples – companies could sell smaller packages so you could try a product for a week.”
Beauty brands, are you listening?