POND(‘s) life – wading through the murky waters of beauty adverts

Despite my better judgment, I read the copy on a POND’s beauty advertisement. On finishing, I felt duty bound to write this critical analysis after conducting some enlightening research.

It’s been a while since I ranted about poor promotional copy. In one of my first columns for The Media OnlineAm I splitting hairs? No, nails actuallyI dissected (read mauled) a badly written newsletter for some obscure herbal product. Read it if you are in the mood for a laugh.

The reason for the long gap is not that I’ve gone soft. I just usually avoid those faux-scientific blurbs. But fear not, advertisers. I am not your target market anyway. My skincare regime is hardly cutting edge and the last time I wore make-up was for my sister’s wedding three years ago.

As addicted to magazines as I am, I avoid high fashion titles that have more adverts before the contents page than my toddler can count on her fingers and toes. I skip over beauty adverts and hardly ever read the small print because it usually makes me angry. If it’s not exaggerated or falling foul of the thin line between legal and not, it’s written in such convoluted language that digesting it gives me heartburn.

The one that didn’t get away

So, why did this particular advert catch my eye? Why did I read every word of it? I can’t answer that. I simply don’t know. I had skipped over some 20 similar pages without a glance.

It could have been the rich red background tones. Maybe it was the model –Charmaine Dlamini is flawlessly exquisite. (We’ll ignore the fact that she is only 30 and hardly a candidate for anti-ageing treatment.)

Perhaps the claim – “younger looking skin in just 7 days*…” -which ends in a star and an ellipsis, both of which hint at detractions, intrigued me. And so I delved.

The star refers to the small print at the bottom of the page, “*based on …clinical tests on Asian women in 2007. With proper use.”

So, the tests were carried out on Asian women at the time of the product launch in 2007. But Ms Dlamini does not look at all Asian. I continued, intrigued.

“I am an African.”

The copy starts with the patronising statement, “African skin ages differently.” By now the hairs on the back of my neck were standing tall. Africa is, after all, a continent  and not a skin type.

Calmly, not wishing to jump to conclusions, I consulted my Twitter followers. A quick poll confirmed my initial reaction – ‘African’ refers to people from Africa, rather than to those people from Africa with a dark skin. To be sure, I checked with www.oxforddictionaries.com. They define African as “relating to Africa or people of African descent.”

As then deputy president, at the adoption of the final new constitution in 1996, Thabo Mbeki delivered his ‘I am an African’ speech. The speech, which Khaya Dlanga called “(p)ossibly the greatest African speech ever”, embraced all South Africans in its conception of Africanness.

So, Unilever (who owns the brand POND’s) conducted tests on Asian women and then used this ‘evidence’ to back up their claim that this cream would make African skin look younger in a week. Their South African model is both black and African so they neatly muddy the (POND) waters by avoiding stating directly that their cream is aimed at those Africans with darker skins.

I have no problem with particular products being aimed at people with particular physical characteristics. I have no need for hair products that soften curls or boost regrowth to cover bald patches. But advertisers must be honest about their target market and the claims they make about their products.

The remaining rants

The name of the product, as per the packaging, is POND’s age miracle™ cream, in lower case. But the copy uses capitals: “Age Miracle” – a case study for How to dilute the strength of your logo/brand/trademark 101?

It’s the copy on the tear off slip that really gets to me.

Our Gift to You…

A complimentary 15ml POND’s Age Miracle Day Cream.

Fill in your details at the back and redeem your free sample in store via a POND’s Beauty Advisor!

For starters, does the word ‘gift’ not imply something that is complimentary? Why would I pay you to give me a gift? And then, in case you missed it, third time lucky – it is ‘free’.

What is a “POND’s Beauty Advisor” and where do I find one? They are certainly not walking around my branch of Clicks, which is a pity as their capitalised title makes them look rather important. In addition,www.oxforddictionaries.com explains that the term ‘advisor’ is an American version of the word we know as ‘adviser’ and usually connotes someone official. Come out, come out, wherever you are.

I am not going to comment on the unnecessary use of the poor exclamation mark but I can’t let the word ‘via’ slip past unnoticed. How do you redeem something via another human being? In this context the preposition, which is short for ‘by travelling through’, suggests the method used by drug smugglers to ensure their cargo goes undetected. I’ll leave it at that.

At the back of the slip, after requesting the usual personal details, is an empty box next to the text: “Tick this box if we are able to contact you about your product experience.”

I still remember school English teachers who drummed into us the difference between ‘can’ and ‘may’. For those whose memory is a bit shakier, ‘can’ refers to ability while ‘may’ refers to permission. So, my kids can ride bicycles but they may not ride them in the road.

Of course you are able to contact the person whose details you now have. The real question is whether they are willing to allow you to do so.

I’m not, in case you were PONDering.

P.S On a different tangent, writing this column brought back a vague recollection of a line from the Merchant of Venice. Cue Google and I found this pearl from the Bard’s coarse character, Gratiano:

“There are a sort of men whose visages

do cream and mantle like a standing pond.”

The ever-insulting Gratiano compares faces that remain unmoving and expressionless to stagnant ponds covered with scum.

I’m not saying that POND’s is a bad name for a face cream, although the short-sighted successors to Mr Pond should perhaps have kept his original name for the product he invented, Golden Treasure.

But they could have saved cosmetic manufacturers a lot of time, and us a lot of money, had they instead discovered that no cream can keep a face from wrinkling with age. No, for that you need Botox.