(mis)use of social media beauty filters when advertising cosmetic products

Feb 11th '21

Beauty filters are designed to enhance a person’s appearance and are included as in-app features on social media, including on Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat. They are becoming increasingly popular and are often applied when sharing selfies to social networks. They have also found their way into social media advertising, and particularly in ads created by influencers who commonly use such filters in their content.


Pre- and post-production techniques enhancing or altering an image is by no means new to advertising and Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) guidance on the use of pre and post-production techniques in ads for cosmetics makes clear that, amongst other things, the re-touching of photographic images requires particular attention to avoid misleading consumers, and visual claims should not misleadingly exaggerate the effect the product is capable of achieving. The Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) historic rulings in this area have tended to focussed on the use of post-production techniques for cosmetic products in TV ads.



This guidance was published well before beauty filters became available on social media, however, the ASA recently applied its core principles to two rulings against ads from Skinny Tan Ltd and We Are Luxe Ltd, both of which featured Instagram stories by influencers who were promoting tanning products.  In both cases, the influencers featured had applied beauty filters which altered their skin tone and complexion, making their skin tone appear darker than it would have without the filters. The ASA considered that, because the filters were directly relevant to the performance of the products being advertised, they were likely to have exaggerated the efficacy of the products and misled consumers materially.


Influencers and advertisers promoting beauty products, and indeed any other products, are therefore advised to avoid applying filters to photos or videos which are directly relevant to the product being advertised and which are likely to exaggerate the effect the product is capable of achieving.


Take control

Filters are usually applied at the time of creating the content, for example when taking a photo or recording a video, rather than applying filters to an existing image or video after it has been created.  As such, it is unlikely that there will be ‘before’ material which could be retained by an advertiser to demonstrate the effect of the filter and show that it wasn’t likely to mislead.


It is important to remember that the responsibility ultimately lies with the advertiser where the use of a filter is likely to mislead consumers about the efficacy of a product. Brands may, therefore, wish to clarify in their commercial agreements with influencers their responsibilities when marketing cosmetic products on social media, and advise them against the use of beauty filters if they are likely to exaggerate the efficacy of the advertised product.


Full disclosure

The use of filters in ads is not inherently problematic but is likely to become an issue if a filter exaggerates the efficacy of the product being advertised, and it will be the advertiser’s responsibility to demonstrate that is not the case.  It’s obviously conceivable that an advertiser could create a filter which accurately reflects the efficacy of their product, but the onus would still be on the advertiser to hold evidence to show that any visual claims made are unlikely to mislead.


For further advice, see CAP AdviceOnline guidance here.


Source: CAP


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