I badly want a North American House Hippo, though.
April 5, 2012 10:00 AM   Subscribe

I watch quite a bit of television (looong winters up here) and I find myself thinking a lot about truth in consumer advertising, something about which I know very little. Are there currently changes going that we're just beginning to see? Are there are more coming down in legislation in North America? If there are no changes, what's preventing them?

My examples are from North American tv ads for consumer goods, but the rules may or may not hold true (or be changing) in other countries' advertising as well. Also, I live in Canada but I watch both Canadian and American stations, and haven't been paying attention to which ads come from where. Some may also be made in the UK (which has higher standards, as I understand it), and might be used without modification on North American stations.

Over the last year or two I've noticed more small disclaimers on mascara ads that state either that "lash inserts were used" or that "lashes were enhanced in post-production". The odd thing to me is that only some mascara ads have these disclaimers, though it's obvious that all these ads use some sort of enhancement (frequently just straight-up full-set false lashes). So why do some ads have the disclaimers and some don't? Is there a shift happening? Are previously-filmed ads grandfathered in under prior laws? That would be weird to me because it would take next to nothing to add the disclaimer in after the fact, but I also don't know much about how ads are distributed to stations. Seems to me like the companies aren't likely to be volunteering to put this information in their ads, that they are somehow being required to, but if that's the case why don't all mascara ads have them?

Another example is some straight-up fiction in the way products work. For example, there are foundations (like Almay Smart Shade Makeup) that claim to "sense" the color of your skin and change to match it perfectly. What's really happening is that the pigments are suspended in a white base and when you apply it, the pigment clumps burst and spread out on your skin-- so the color of the foundation changes but it's only because the pigments are released into the emulsion, turning it from white into, well, foundation-color. But it's not "sensing" the color of your skin, which is a lovely science fiction. So how can they say that it is? I know the wording is very careful in their marketing materials but they very heavily imply that it's basically magic, and I'm not clear on how that passes, legally.

And my last example (though I'm sure you can think of many more) is fast food. This guy took pics of ads vs. reality and it's so odd to me that this kind of advertising is allowed to let stand. How is this possible? Are there changes coming?

The reason I ask all of this is that I watch television with a very critical eye, and I know that what's on screen doesn't match up to reality, and even still I really have to struggle to not get sucked into the lies-- I'm so conditioned to believe it all that it takes actual mental work to think about how it's not real, and to try to not let the feeling of the ad impact my purchases even after I've considered it carefully. I have a young niece who I recently sat down to show her a collection of websites that showed before-Photoshop and after-Photoshop images of models or magazine covers. I wanted her to know that even those women didn't actually look like that, and I wanted her to know it young. But even I can forget to not compare myself to something that isn't even real, because I didn't start questioning it until later in life.

Also, here's the House Hippo reference for the non-Canadians.
posted by mireille to Law & Government (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
In Canada all television commercials broadcast by Canadian broadcasters have to be submitted to Telecaster for approval.

Verification of claims made is one thing that they look for, particularly when a competing product is mentioned. If an advertiser claims a 200% improvement in something over the competition, then advertiser would likely have to supply supplemental documentation of this fact.
posted by jade east at 10:57 AM on April 5, 2012

I recall that the notes about false lashes being applied is a new thing as a result of a lawsuit alleging misleading advertising. I could only find this story from the UK but I believe there was one in the US too. Maybe there hasn't been one in Canada so you're seeing the difference between Canadian and US ads?
posted by hydrobatidae at 11:31 AM on April 5, 2012

Like hydrobatidae, I assumed the uptick in commercial disclaimers were an attempt to avoid litigation, not a reaction to any new regulations. You also see this in alcohol advertising ("Drink Responsibly") and in car commercials ("Professional driver. Closed course.").
posted by Rock Steady at 1:38 PM on April 5, 2012

Response by poster: I figured it was litigation too (I had seen the link that hydrobatidae posted), but what doesn't make sense is why mascara consumers would have thrown up their hands in outrage before fast food consumers would-- I mean, more people eat fast food than buy mascara. The parent companies of both types are vast and have many many lawyers, so I can't see it being an issue of the cosmetics companies being lower-hanging fruit. But maybe I'm wrong. Still seems weird, though, that consumers haven't risen up against more of this stuff. I mean coffee's obviously hot and that now has to be spelled out, but why wouldn't there have been successful class action-type suits that make more sweeping changes in terms of companies selling exactly what they're advertising? Like, how is a McDonald's commercial for a hamburger not considered a bait-and-switch? I am genuinely interested, not ranting, just curious-- and any links to the legal history of this would be welcome too.
posted by mireille at 2:40 PM on April 5, 2012

I've had fun teaching my kids lately about all of the trickery on TV and in ads. Two days ago my 11-year-old daughter was watching a "reality" show about kittens and one of the kittens got stuck in a closet. Another cat was reaching under the door, trying to get to the trapped one.

I as pleased as punch when my daughter paused the show and said "Dad, look! If that cat is really trapped in the closet..." she pushed play and the viewpoint switched to show the cat inside with a little paw poking under the door "then how is there somebody in there with her filming her?"

There's a lot of tomfoolery going on in the media and I agree - something should be done about it.
posted by tacodave at 3:08 PM on April 5, 2012

tacodave...You do understand that your story of teaching your daughter would be used by many as evidence that market forces are working properly and no legislation or official oversight is needed?
posted by Thorzdad at 6:34 AM on April 6, 2012

If I were in any sort of majority, I'd agree, but my personal, anecdotal evidence leads me to believe that most people aren't taught this sort of thing. So yes, Thorzdad, I see your point, but I don't agree with it. One involved parent doesn't negate the need for oversight.
posted by tacodave at 1:42 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older Welcome to Lefferts!   |   Free molecular biology software? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.