Airbrushing, CSR and False Advertising: L’Oreal Ad Banned

At first glance, the connection between photo editing and CSR may seem weak. But  responsible advertising is a key tenet of sustainable practice.

Recently the UK’s Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) banned L’Oreal advertisements featuring Julia Roberts and supermodel Christy Turlington for being “overly airbrushed.”

The French make-up company admitted that the images were digitally manipulated and retouched, but staunchly denies that the ads were misleading. The company claims they “accurately illustrated” the effects of their products, and that the image of Roberts, taken by celebrity photographer Mario Testino, was an “aspirational picture.”

Both L’Oreal brands, Maybelline and Lancôme, insist that their products were scientifically proven to work, and that they were “disappointed” that the ASA banned the ads. L’Oreal advertisements have been on the ASA’s radar in previous years as well. In 2007, the advertising regulator disapproved of L’Oreal’s television advertisement for mascara featuring Penelope Cruz on the basis that it was unclear that Cruz was wearing fake eyelashes in the commercial. L’Oreal has also been under fire for whitening Beyonce’s skin in Feria hair colour adverts.

In 2009, Ralph Lauren got flack for photo-shopping a model’s body, making it grossly undersized. According to The Consumerist, “Exposure to media-propagated images of unrealistic body images has been linked to eating disorders and other child and adolescent health problems.” Ralph Lauren promptly released a statement apologizing for the retouching, saying, “We have addressed the problem and going forward will take every precaution to ensure that the caliber of our artwork represents our brand appropriately.”

On the flip side a recent Louis Vuitton advert featuring Angelina Jolie claimed that she was photographed without makeup. On closer inspection, it is rather obvious that even Angelina could not have been born with naturally smoky eyes.

Why the deliberate deception?

The recent Newsweek cover featuring the late Princess Diana with the newly married Duchess of Cambridge is another example of how airbrushing and photoshop trickery can lead to image distortion. It was released to show how Diana would look on her 50th birthday in July and the article that followed speculated what her life would be like if she were still alive.

The issue of airbrushing has two different implications for CSR depending on the type of publication. In adverts for cosmetics like in the case of L’Oreal it creates an unrealistic expectation about the product that the company is advertising. This is deliberately misleading the consumer. With both cosmetic brands and luxury clothing brands like Ralph Lauren photo-shopping does create negative self-image in impressionable adolescents creating unrealistic expectations of beauty.

With media photographs like the case of Newsweek, deliberating inviting controversy to sell magazine copies is not only tasteless, it also leads one to question the authenticity of photojournalism. Photojournalism is supposed to tell a story in an authentic and honest manner. When journalistic photos are abused, manipulated or ‘tweaked’ in any way the story gets distorted as well.

The wider implication of photo-shopping and image editing which has become so commonplace in the industry should be realized. It can no longer be just a question of ‘false advertising,’ it comes with ethical considerations and strong CSR implications.

Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also