In U.K., TV Viewers Like Their Ads to Look Like Ads

P&G Spots Drew Complaints Over Infomercial-Like Format

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Procter & Gamble has been investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority in the U.K. after viewers complained that a series of three TV spots, themed "The Science Behind the Beauty," were misleading.

The three ads were each 110-second long and presented in the style of a current affairs or investigative program by Anna Richardson, a journalist and broadcaster best known for presenting shows such as "Supersize vs. Superskinny" and "The Sex Education Show."

Ms. Richardson introduced each spot with the words, "You're watching the science behind the beauty. I'm testing out the claims behind the products."

The Science Behind the Beauty: OralB

The format was more infomercial than TV spot, making some viewers uncomfortable. All three ads refer to one another, and promoted Oral-B's electric toothbrushes, Olay Regenerist cream and Head & Shoulders shampoo. Ms. Richardson presented them dressed in a white lab coat, popping up in three consecutive ad breaks.

Viewer complaints to the ASA challenged the ads for not making the identity of the advertiser clear, and for implying that the three products had been independently chosen for assessment.

During the Oral B ad, Ms. Richardson spoke to the chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation and a P&G clinical scientist. The other two ads featured a consultant cosmetic surgeon.

P&G said each spot carried superimposed text at the beginning, middle and end stating "This is an advertisement." The marketer said it was confident that viewers would recognize the content as advertising in a science program format, and that there was enough prominent branding in each to make it clear that the products were part of an ad.

The ASA rejected the complaints, judging that the superimposed text made it clear enough to viewers that they were watching advertising material, even though the spots were longer than average at 110 seconds, and were fronted by a well-known presenter in the style of a current affairs or investigative program.

P&G has been using multibrand advertising for a couple of years, grouping products together to achieve greater impact. The complaints to the ASA, however, suggest that some consumers find this style of advertising confusing and misleading. P&G did not respond to a request for comment on whether it will continue to create and show ads in this format.

The "Max Factor Makeover Break," introduced in late 2009, took the form of a "real-life" makeover show and again featured three 90-second spots shown over consecutive ad breaks, with experts brought in to boost credibility. The products featured were Max Factor make up, Olay skincare and hair care from the Aussie and Clairol Nice 'n Easy ranges.

P&G tested a similar format in the U.S. and found the method increased consumers' intent to purchase to four times that of traditional ad spots. Some British consumers, however, seem to prefer their ads to look like ads.

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