In this week’s Ad Week, there’s a story about a health/beauty case-study that appeared both in print and on-line where someone had achieved life-changing results from using a particular product to combat excessive sweating. As it transpired, the ‘case-study’ in question was a senior account director at the PR agency that looked after the brand. Her name had been changed for the purposes of the feature.
A couple of years ago, when something very similar happened and there was a claim that a product had increased breast-size and therefore given the case-study far more confidence than she’d previously had (eye-roll), a couple PR agencies emailed me to say that the case-study in question was a PR working at the agency, and had previously worked for them as an intern. She was claiming to be a buyer at a well-known retail store.
I went as far as I could to entirely disprove the story, from screen grabbing the ‘case-study’s’ Facebook page where it clearly stated she was a PR (which was deleted seconds after I’d screen grabbed) to speaking to the journalist who had written the story, and sending the page, along with confirmation that she’d worked at various PR agencies. Although the journalist at the time said she had thought the case-study was remarkably enthusiastic, she was actually just irritated that it had been brought to her attention. To my knowledge, that story still exists on the on-line version of the paper it appeared in.
The upshot for the agency was that they lost the client that very day. But, not before I’d had a furious phone call from the agency owner accusing me of trying to ruin her and being adamant that everything that had appeared was entirely true. “I don’t know why you’re doing this to me,” were her parting words.
Well, here’s why. Beauty is a very vulnerable point for most women. Years of being made to feel apologetic for not having big enough boobs, slim enough thighs, long enough lashes – you name it – we don’t have enough of it – except of course in the cases where we have too much of it (cellulite, arm fat etc) – whichever road you go down in beauty you will have failed somewhere. It’s what the entire industry is built on, because if we all felt happy and beautiful then there would really be no need for any of it. So when we see a ‘real’ woman with astonishing results, that’s always going to make a better case for the product than an ad. Which is why it’s so wrong that these bogus case studies ever appear. But they continue to do so, with horrible regularity, and in the industry, they’re rarely questioned – maybe a raised brow of disapproval, but that’s about it. The collusion has to go through several channels to ever appear in print, so it can’t be put down to a moment of desperation and madness. It’s entirely calculated.
However, I’m going to make the case for over-pressured PRs whose clients have the most unrealistic of expectations. It’s an incredibly pressurised and competitive environment, and the loss of a client can easily mean the loss of a job. I don’t think, when you have a baying client, disappointed and furious that their super un-sexy product isn’t making Vogue, and you know that your decisions on how to keep the client directly affect your employees, it cannot be at all easy. I can see how it happens. I can see how you can forget the bigger picture while trying to manage the smaller one that has direct implications for you.
The people who have been forgotten here, by the brand, by the agency, by the case-study, by the writer and by the publication are women just like you and me. If bloggers can do anything really, really well, it’s remembering who they write for and why and caring about the end result. The wider issue is that there’s a loss of emotional connection between print/on-line print and the women who read them. How to get it back is the million dollar question.
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Excellent article Jane. My perspective is the reason I feel resonance and trust with bloggers is because they (or the one’s I trust) seem to tell it like it is rather than a pink glossed version.
One of my favourite saying’s is ‘The truth will set you free…but first it’s going to piss you off!’. It takes courage to be truthful, but as the owner of that PR agency found out when you’re not it’ll come back and bite you in the bum.
Oh Jane, if you could just name and shame, it would be so useful ! But it’s tricky, I know …
Great article BBB!!!
Brilliant Jane!!!!! I see the small print in ads and on TV saying something 79 people tested!!! WHAT!!! You get more people walking down a high street any given day.
Over the years I have gotten more and more p*ss off with the rubbish the ad agencies put out about products. Unfortunately so many women are like sheep and jump and follow because Cheryl says it and uses it!! No doubt the reason is celebs are paid and given the products for free. No way will they tell the truth. Even the beauty mags editors get everything free and the companies are paying for ads in their magazines, no way they say this is rubbish or does not work. Sorry rant over.
More often than not they’ve tested far more than 79 people but the other 311 people gave a response which wasn’t desirable, and so the sample size has been pared down by restricting the criteria. “Oh, we’ll cut out… women over 40! And… women with red hair! And… women who were smokers!” And they basically use whatever metrics they can to cut out the largest portion of respondents / participants who said “No, this product does nothing” or “Does not work as advertised” to maximise the percentage of the remaining, much-reduced sample who were in a good mood that day, genuinely thought the product was good, or were just too polite 😉
There’s a great advert on TV at the moment for A Deodorant which says “We’ve tested this! No white marks on 100 colours!” Except when you squint at the small-print at the end of the ad they reveal they actually tested on something like 120 or 130 colours. Oh but clearly there were marks there, so they snipped those off the list and worded it so that they aren’t TECHNICALLY lying… Except there’s no way of knowing what 100 colours it didn’t stain, what the materials were, whether anyone wore those clothes during the test, what they class as a “colour” (I mean, in theory, colour is analogue, so there is a limitless number of “colours” in the world). Not only have they fiddled the numbers, but the numbers the DO have are totally spurious and meaningless anyway!
“79 out of 139 women agree” is equally gibberish. You have no idea who they asked, who they’ve cut out, who they kept in, what exact question they were asked, whether they actually got to use the product for several weeks… It’s a totally useless figure.
Dave Gorman, on Modern Life Is Goodish series 1 episode 5 showed Rimmel ad making a claim for a sexy voluptuous lips with the small print of 47% of 34 women agreed, showing that fewer women agreed with the claim than disagreed, yet they are allowed to advertise the claim. Ditto Rimmel Perfect Finish foundation 12 hour lasting finish with only 20 out of 99 women agreeing!
Great article. This is such a lovely post, I love how honest and truthful you are.
This article brings it just to the point. Women don’t like to be brainwashed or buying an illusion regarding how things are best promoted. That makes me feel personal as a women in a way dumm, depend and being expected to be mindless up to, consumer have to consume without any healthy critical thoughts or opinion behind it. It gives the message the market wants to rule what opinion may is allowed to be said or ‘not’. Medias still follow a marketing strategy, where consumer should better believe and follow a vision than being asked for a real opinion and honest ratings.
Thank you BBB, I always enjoy and like your blog posts, your opinion about and insights ……
Spot on as ever Jane. I for one, use such recommendations when considering purchases and it looks like deceit to me.
Great post. I can’t help feeling that brands nowadays are feeling confused on how to handle the new blogging power and it has blurred the lines. When I started as a mua, it was just journalists/advertising/brands now it is instant reviews on so many level made instantly available via the web/social networks etc…the pressure is on leading to this kind of issue.
I am in the US and I have found that I personally prefer the British beauty bloggers specifically because of their tone,and the level of credibility. So down to earth! And many with quite a bit of formal experience either in journalism or the beauty biz. I have noticed the magazines like Instyle and Vogue which I used to enjoy immensely, I no longer get the same pleasure out of because many of the messages seem canned. The US bloggers tend to be overly enthusiastic, almost Valley girlish, and I get the distinct sense they are selling me on something. I am all for enthusiasm but I can only take so much. Thank you for your posts and articles of different topics. I am a fairly new reader (thank you Sali Hughes) but it is the beginning of a long relationship 🙂
Thank you so much for such a lovely comment x
When I think I can’t love your blog more than I already do, go you ahead and write this article. I wish more bloggers had your integrity. Where many bloggers have chosen money over honesty I can always count on this blog for real opinion and thoroughly researched articles.
thank you so much..that’s so nice of you to say x