Cosmetics advertising in women’s print magazines under scrutiny

By Deanna Utroske

- Last updated on GMT

Cosmetics advertising in women’s print magazines under scrutiny

Related tags Advertising

Research published in the Journal of Global Fashion Marketing illustrates what content comes across as deceptive, what claims are believable, and which sorts of ads consumers trust most. 

Marketing scholars affiliated with both the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Valdosta State University in Georgia studied full-page beauty ads in these popular titles: Elle, Glamour, Harper's Bazaar, InStyle, Marie Claire, People StyleWatch, and Vogue.

A full spectrum of beauty products were represented in the sample, including color cosmetics, nail care, hair care, skin care, body care, and fragrance. According to its message, each ad was categorized as an outright lie, an omission, vague, or acceptable.

The work resulted in the newly published article, Deception in cosmetics advertising: Examining cosmetics advertising claims in fashion magazine ads.

Subjective copy—with wording such as, “All you need for all day confidence”​—was  most likely to be perceived as an outright lie. The study found that nearly 50% of the subjective claims in fashion magazine ads were seemingly false.

Product superiority claims, which appeared much less frequently, were also perceived as false almost half of the time. And, scientific claims, those that feature clinical evaluation results, product formulations, or scientific processes, were often found to be vague or as omitting information. Performance claims were also often vague.

Prominent media outlets are spreading the bad news. Time magazine just ran an item by Alexandra Sifferlin titled, That Makeup Ad Is Probably Lying to You, which opens with this disheartening line, “Only 18% of all claims made in commercials for cosmetics are generally trustworthy.”

Advertising claims that make use of endorsers, like dermatologists, performed best. “Most of the endorsement claims were deemed to be acceptable,” ​according to the journal article.

Jie G. Fowler, Timothy H. Reisenwitz, and Les Carlson, the marketing scholars behind the study, make some suggestions for how brands can build on that winning tactic. “This research suggests that advertisers should strive to develop concrete strategies for dealing with distrustful consumers in the marketplace.”

“Many endorsement claims were deemed to be ‘acceptable’, which suggests a positive effectiveness level for this claim format. Continued use of endorsement claims may be a beneficial tactic for advertisers regarding cynical consumers,” ​they write.

Beauty industry advertising can easily be read as of-a-type, that is to say consumers may well believe that if much of the industry’s messaging seems false, it all must be false, regardless of the company or brand featured in the ad.

The Deception in cosmetics advertising article points to earlier research that found deceptive advertising can guide consumers to inaccurately assess products and could “turn us into a community of cynics, [who] doubt advertisers, the media, and authority in all its forms….Deceptive claims can also be considered annoying, offensive and insulting to the consumer's intelligence.”

So for the good of the industry and consumers, Fowler, Reisenwitz and Carlson, discuss how guidelines and more transparent marketing practices could be beneficial.

 A full text version of the academic article is available here​, from Taylor & Francis. 

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