The trouble is, it’s usually all in a word. Here’s a good example:
Regular use of this lip balm may help to soothe chapped and dry lips.
Or put another way,
This lip balm soothes chapped and dry lips.
The first sentence says nothing at all.. all it says it that it ‘might’ – there is no promise, but chances are what the average consumer will pick up from that sentence is ‘dry and chapped lips’ and assume that it will be the very thing to sort that problem out. The claim has made no promises at all. It could be pretty much anything and might as well be written on toffee for all it’s worth. The second sentence is outright making a claim so by definition, it has to soothe chapped and dry lips. However, a further nuance is in ‘soothes’. Define soothes. Neither sentence says the balms will cure dry lips or even help them, all it says is that it will soothe. See how clever the written word can be.
It’s so important that consumers read between the lines. However, when it comes to reports to the UK ASA (advertising standards authority) and the US FDA, you’ll very often find that it isn’t right-thinking members of the public putting in complaints about word trickery – it is very often competitive brands who don’t want to see their own correctly worded products fall in popularity just because another brand has used word trickery that makes it seem better when in fact, it isn’t. They’ve just stated their claims differently..
If you remember that skin structure cannot be changed by beauty products, that there is only a certain depth that topical beauty products can reach in the epidermis (if they are able to make structural changes or penetrate very deeply, they’d be classified as medical, not beauty) then what you are looking at is what changes skin care can make in a surface way.
I pretty much avoid anything that says ‘may’ or ‘can help to’ because chances are they pretty much won’t do anything. I look at brands that are getting away with some phenomenally outrageous claims but because they don’t advertise, but merely make their claims on their websites, it’s harder for the ASA to catch up with them. It’s the old, old story – if it sounds too good to be true, then it is.
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I’m always aware of wording and using things like ‘h2o molecule bubbly complicated things’ .. in other words.. water! Good post!
I wouldn’t avoid brands that say ‘may’ or ‘help to’ necessarily – when I worked with the marketing and legal team at Paul Mitchell to write the copy for packaging/marketing materials, I used to add in ‘help’ at practically every opportunity. The issue is that it’s near enough impossible to prove the effect of a product without investing £100,000s in clinical trials, of which most brands (if you’re not L’Oreal) can’t afford to do. Therefore, you know the product really does make a difference but can’t afford to prove it.
The legal teams of brands won’t allow you to say anything that can’t be substantiated, so if they say ‘helps to soothe chapped lips’ it more than likely will help. It’s just they can’t say ‘this will totally rid you of chapped lips’. The issue is where they say ‘approve the appearance of’ and so on, which basically means b*gger all.