Per the bill's introductory language, it's intended "to direct
the Federal Trade Commission to submit to Congress a report on the
use, in advertising and other media for the promotion of commercial
products, of images that have been altered to materially change the
physical characteristics of the faces and bodies of the individuals
Cannon Room 210 was packed with mostly women, many of whom are
involved with the Eating Disorders Coalition, the D.C. advocacy
group that helped host this briefing.
But one of the people most deeply involved in this cause is a
man: Seth Matlins. The former CMO of Live Nation and the guy who
started the marketing practice at Creative Artists Agency, he found me in the
audience before the briefing began and we chatted a bit about how
he and his wife, Eva, have been pushing for truth-in-advertising
legislation since 2011. In August of that year he wrote a widely
shared Huffington Post editorial titled "Why Beauty Ads Should Be
Legislated" regarding what they were then calling the
The briefing started and Matlins went first, launching into a
rousing speech decrying "advertising's industrywide practice of
routinely and materially misrepresenting the appearance of people"
and citing research linking unrealistic depictions of human bodies
in the media to eating disorders in both women and men. "Let's be
clear," he said. "This is not an anti-advertising bill; it
is a truth-in-advertising bill. And let's also be clear:
This is not a First Amendment issue; it's a consumer-protection and
health issue. … These ads are deceptive and they are
He got a standing ovation -- but not before his speech was
interrupted by the (late) arrival of Rep. Capps. Matlins ceded the
podium mid-speech so Capps could give her brief speech,
which also got a standing ovation -- and then she
Later on, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen also showed up suddenly, interrupted
another speaker to give her speech, then got a standing
ovation, too -- and then also abruptly left.
All of which underscores that congressional briefings are
stagecraft, a form of marketing. In fact, some congressional
briefings attract no actual members of congress -- representatives
and senators frequently send staffers on fact-finding missions in
their stead -- so Capps and Ros-Lehtinen were treated like visiting
royalty just for bothering to show up for about 10 minutes
Still, there was a triumphant air to the proceedings. The fact
that Matlins and the Eating Disorders Coalition and their allies
have gotten this far -- an actual bill introduced with three
co-sponsors -- suggests some momentum. Which, depending on where
you stand on the issue of government regulation of advertising, is
either awesome or vaguely terrifying.
To be honest, I'm not 100% sure where I stand. On the
one hand, I think cosmetics companies getting to use overly
Photoshopped images of models and actors as "proof" of the efficacy
of their allegedly youth-restoring skin creams is obviously wrong.
On the other hand, I don't trust typically tech-illiterate
lawmakers or the FTC to be able to articulate what constitutes
acceptable levels of Photoshopping.
Really, what are we talking about here? FTC regulations that
somehow say, "Thou shall not create a thigh gap where one does not
exist"? Or "Thou shall not smooth out wrinkles"?
Apparently, to some extent, yeah. Because the Truth in
Advertising briefing also had a bit of a courtroom feel, with
marketers being tried in absentia for crimes against (mostly)
womankind. In fact, arrayed near the front of the room were
poster-size enlargements of print ads with altered images,
including a Target ad of a model in a swimsuit with red circles
pointing out where her thighs and arms had been slimmed. And a
Dolce & Gabbana ad starring Madonna.
Which got me thinking: How "real" are models and celebrities
even pre-Photoshop? Madonna, for instance, can afford
teams of personal trainers, stylists and makeup artists that can
make her 55-year-old corpus look weirdly ageless. Should Congress
For that matter, should Congress direct the FTC to regulate
push-up bras or Spanx?
I'm sorry, I don't mean to be flip.
But I worry: Where do we draw the line? Where does "truth" in
advertising -- not to mention in photography in general, or
life in general -- begin and end?
Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" columnist for Advertising
Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.