Most adverts usually run for a while, maybe several months, and are then replaced with something else. An advert for a new version of the product, perhaps, or a different ad for the same product. And sometimes they seem to have a natural shelf life. But occasionally they just seem to stop.
That’s what happened with a commercial for Clairol’s Nice ‘n Easy home hair dye.
Not so easy?
It’s all to do with a home hair dye ad featuring actress Christina Hendricks (best known for her role in Mad Men; the TV series based on, somewhat ironically, the early years of advertising in the US). In the advert, Hendricks was shown changing her hair colour from ‘vibrant red’ to ‘golden blonde’.
Not particularly controversial, you might think; but you’d be wrong. According to the two hair colour experts who complained to the ASA (the Advertising Standards Authority) about it, the advert was misleading. They argued that it suggested the colour change shown could be achieved solely using the hair dye in question, but that this wasn’t possible. Therefore, the advert ‘misleadingly exaggerated the capability of the product’.
And how did the owners of the product, Procter and Gamble, respond? They claimed that the colour change shown was achieved using no product other than the dye in question, and that it was done according to the instructions provided.
Hair and back again
But P & G also admitted that, for a variety of reasons (including practicality – Hendricks had other commitments around the time the ad was filmed), Hendricks’ hair was first changed from red to blonde in order to film the ‘after’ shots for the second half of the ad in October 2014. Her hair was then dyed red in order to film the ‘before’ shots for the first half of the commercial. The ad was released around 6 months later, and Hendricks’ hair was dyed from red to blond a second time to coincide with that.
So even though the ad depicted a colour change from red to blonde in one go, the colours were in fact achieved by first dyeing her red hair blonde, and then dyeing it back to red. Over a rather longer period than was implied.
The ASA decided in favour of the complainants, the hair colour experts. Why? The ASA considered that viewers would be likely to understand the advert as suggesting the colour change depicted (so from that particular shade of red to that particular shade of blonde) could be achieved using the dye in question and nothing else.
The reality, the ASA noted, was a little different. Both times Hendricks’ hair was dyed blond, her hair wasn’t a freshly dyed red as shown in the ad (so not the vibrant red shown in the ad). Therefore, the ‘visual claim’ made by the ad ‘had not been substantiated’, and so the ad ‘misleadingly exaggerated the capability of the product’. The commercial had offended against several BCAP guidelines (that’s the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice, in case you were wondering), and was banned in the UK.
And what does this mean?
Well, it means that how the content of an advert is created is effectively as important as the content itself. Moreover, advertisers should carefully consider how the audience as a whole could perceive the commercial.
In this case, the advert suggested to viewers that the colour change shown was achieved by dying Hendricks’ red hair blonde, in one go. But in fact, it didn’t tell the whole story, or show everything that happened between the red and blonde phases (or even the correct order) of Hendricks’ hair as portrayed in the advert. Hendricks’ actual hair transformation, as we have seen, was a more complicated story. And that’s why it was misleading enough to warrant the ASA’s intervention.
Hopefully that’s made things a little clearer (you’re welcome, by the way). All part of the service from…