Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A voice of reason writes to the newspapers - finally

I wonder why the national English broadsheet doesn't produce an investigative report on the fraudulent advertisements that sell people false hope and snake oil at "best" (scare quotes in full effect), and cause physical harm and pain to them at worst - not to mention all the self-hatred and judgment that goes in between? I guess it's because 50% (figure arrived at via unscientific estimate) of the Straits Times' advertising space is given over to ads hawking slimming treatments or bust enhancement (or sometimes both, by the same company, because the Body Police have decreed that you can't have too much fat in some places or too little in others).

Which is why I'm glad that someone at the Forum Desk had their finger on the right button and chose to publish the following missive (despite potential irate phone calls from account managers):

Oct 4, 2010
More teeth needed to curb false ads

I READ with concern last Tuesday's report ('Rise in false ads in beauty industry'. Only the most misleading advertisements, mostly by small players, get acted on by the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS).

In contrast, Britain's far more professional Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) does a much better job.

Last year, a top multinational cosmetics company ran a national press advertisement in Britain claiming that one of its anti-wrinkle products could deliver practically instant wrinkle-filling capabilities based on clinical studies.

ASA asked for substantiation. The company submitted two 'clinical test' reports on 25 and 23 women. ASA rejected the studies because they were not randomised, not blinded and did not include a control group. The advertisement was banned in its original form.

The same advertisement ran its full course in Singapore. If a complaint had been made to ASAS, would it have had the clout to take on a huge multinational corporation?

Cheng Shoong Tat

Who's going to take responsibility for this? The beauty industry sure as hell isn't. The media has no legal obligation to turn down fees paid by a legitimate advertiser. The government does not regulate the beauty industry. So it's down to... a body that 'comprises representatives from advertisers, advertising agencies, government agencies, media owners and other supporting organisations'? I guess it's up to us, the consumers, then.


  1. It's not just beauty ads. How often do you see advertisements claiming ten thousand dollars a month in Forex trading, or any number of others with highly dubious claims? I see these ads virtually every time I open the newspaper. What's needed is to rigorously hold these corporate advertisers to their claims and deliver heavy penalties for those found guilty of false advertising.

  2. KW: Yes, dodgy get-rich-quick ads need to be curbed too -- but forex trading, in and of itself, doesn't make people hate their bodies and harm themselves. Beauty industry advertising does, by setting up impossibly standards of beauty that their expensive and sometimes dangerous treatments claim to help you meet.

  3. TCC: There are two issues here, dodgy claims and manufactured standards of beauty. CASE can slap the former with penalties, but the latter is impossible to regulate without ridiculous levels of censorship. The letter quoted simply addresses dodgy claims.

    If I get your argument right, you're saying that beauty advertisements are all fraudulent, because they mislead consumers into certain expectations. However, I'd counter that this interpretation is broad enough to encompass, say, Swiss watch ads.

  4. KW, when 55% of society are regularly instantly assessed, judged and discriminated against socially and professionally on the basis of their compliance with standards promulgated by Swiss watch ads, and when people are setting themselves on fire or breaking all the bones in their faces in order to obtain Swiss watches, do come back and we can have this conversation as if beauty standards and the consumerist prestige associated with Swiss watches are the same thing.

  5. Dear KW,

    "you're saying that beauty advertisements are all fraudulent"

    Short answer: Yeah.

    Long answer: Beauty ads sell an unattainable ideal that all models and celebs maintain via a rare and expensive combination of fortuitous genes, invasive surgery, hard & regular exercise (which isn't much good at keeping size 00 unless you have aforementioned genes), and airbrushing.

    Those aren't realistically in reach for the rest of us who aren't professionally skinny, no matter how good friends we become with Marie France or Jean Yip. At least the Swiss watch ad isn't claiming to turn you into Anna Kournikova.

    While we're at it, we could build a case for how Swiss watch ads trade on another unattainable ideal of wealth and 'taste' that's also out of reach of more people as Singapore's Gini coefficient creeps ever higher. We could talk about diversity (or lack thereof) of models used in Swiss watch ads and what that says about socially constructed ideals of desirability. I was happy for us both to sit under the wide umbrella of consumer advocacy, but. But. Your second comment made it clear that that's not what you cared about; you just wanted a good ol' derail. So, thanks for playing, but I'm afraid you just get the Reductio Ad Absurdum Award.

    PS. If you care so much about the poor souls who lose money on dodgy day trading scams, go write your own blog about it. You don't see me commenting over at Tan Kin Lian's blog about how he should totally devote more of his blog to body image issues in the media.

  6. Also note the last paragraph of my original post clearly stated that I didn't think statutory regulation could realistically control the media where body image issues are concerned, and that it's up to consumers to make their dollar ballot count, but I guess that was easier to ignore when trying to set up the scary straw-feminazi censorship argument.


Please avoid (1) victim-blaming, (2) justifying any particular instance of oppression/exploitation, (3) explaining that we live in a post-feminist/racist/ablist/enter-oppression-here world, or (4) Mansplaining at all. Barn writers are free to moderate their own posts how ever they deem fit, and not obligated to entertain any comment. If you suspect it might seem offensive, don't comment.

(See our note on comments.)