Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017
by Emily Owens

Honesty in advertising – dead, dormant or disguised?

In the summer of 2009 I graduated into the worst recession to have hit the UK since the 1980s. I don’t recommend it – no jobs, no money and not a whole lot of hope. I was back living at home after four years of blissful independence in Manchester and was experiencing something I’d never encountered before…empty days. No timetable, no tutorials, no deadlines, no plan. Thank God for the internet.

In order to obtain my degree in Graphic Design, I spent three years learning how adverts are constructed so as to influence those exposed to them as much as possible. I spent my last year writing a dissertation on the representation of women in advertising – to sum up 10,000 words in 12, they make us feel like crap then sell us the impossible dream. Television and magazine adverts just didn’t work on me anymore. I was sick of seeing people that were taller, skinnier and prettier than me try to sell me something with the promise that buying that particular product would change my life. After being bombarded by them for 10 plus years I had perfected the art of tuning them out. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

Step up, the ‘beauty gurus’ of YouTube!

Here were real girls, with real faces and real skin that wasn’t airbrushed and had all the same imperfections as me. They were relatable and had no reason to lie. They had gone out and spent their hard-earned money on something that delivered what it promised and they wanted to tell people. It was basically equivalent to one of your girlfriends giving you a recommendation, and that’s how it felt. If something was a load of overpriced rubbish, didn’t deliver or gave them a nasty rash etc., they told you – something a women’s glossy magazine was never in a million years going to do. A magazine would never risk an honest review because chances are, they would like that brand to pay a lot of money to advertise with them one day.

The brand got savvy

They started sending these girls free stuff in return for positive reviews. And why wouldn’t they? The difference in cost for L’Oréal to send out 100 free mascaras compared to putting a double-page spread in Cosmopolitan magazine is laughable. It also gave them access to a young, impressionable audience that would otherwise have been difficult to reach.

And so we have come full circle. Sure, the more honest ones write #ad or #spon, but the genuineness and authenticity is lost. These girls now make a full-time living going to events and producing paid content such as videos, blog posts and Instagram photos for a myriad of brands – that’s great for them but for us, the charm has gone.

I’d still choose a blog or YouTube channel over a magazine and I don't see that changing. First of all, they’re free! But more importantly, magazines will always promote the latest not necessarily the best, and will probably never be totally impartial.

What does the future hold for beauty brands?

I spent a good while trying to think of what the next development will be. There are brands like Dove trying to promote ‘real beauty’ and in fairness to them, they’re not making mad claims that they will make my cellulite disappear (I’m looking at you, Nivea), but they’re a drop in the Pacific. Maybe we’ll have to wait until everyone feels the need to shake things up once again. I’ve already started ignoring certain posts on Twitter and Instagram for this reason – and it can’t just be me, right?

I should point out that the beauty industry is massively unregulated and so doesn’t represent all advertising – some of the claims they get away with by dropping words like ‘science’, ‘labs’ and ‘research’ just wouldn’t fly in other areas of business. It’s the job of us, the agencies, to make sure our clients are always honest, upfront and most importantly never misleading. We owe it to both clients and consumers – get in touch today to find out how we can help your brand at Denfield.