PAY attention: here comes the science bit. One of my great bugbears of the moment is that Garnier skincare television advert with Davina McCall. As you'd expect, Davina grins and glows and tells us how marvellous her face cream is, but then she does something utterly bizarre. She gets a soft, red, rubber ball and squeezes it.
Presumably, this is supposed to show us how wrinkly our skin would look if our faces were red rubber balls and some giant TV personality squished us. Then something even more amazing happens. As Davina squeezes away, the word "dramatisation" appears at the bottom of the screen.
What does this mean? Do Garnier think their customers are so stupid that they will happily accept that their heads could behave in exactly the same way as a dog's chew toy? Or do they think we need to see the word "dramatisation" to reassure us that some red rubber ball-headed life form isn't being crushed to death in front of us?
Those are the only explanations I could think of – unless the word "dramatisation" is there to inform us that Davina isn't actually squeezing the ball; it's there to reassure people who are watching with the sound down that Davina won't come and personally scrunch your face like a rubber ball if you don't buy the cream. Calm down, dear, it's not real, it's a dramatisation of how the ball might perhaps look if Davina were genuinely squeezing it. Which she isn't, because it's just a dramatisation. Phew! And I was worried that the ball – or do I mean my face? – was getting badly hurt.
Advertisers are notorious for finding strange ways of getting their points across, but when the products being pushed are cosmetics, skin and haircare, it's as though all semblance of sanity goes out the window and we're expected to accept all sorts of pseudo-scientific lunacy masquerading as information.
Earlier this month, cosmetics giant Procter & Gamble was slapped on the wrist by the UK Advertising Standards Authority for making questionable scientific claims about its Olay Regenerist face cream. You may remember the advert (if you don't, bad luck, because we're now all legally prevented from ever seeing it again).
A woman introduces herself: "I'm Eve Cameron, beauty journalist." (Right, that's pretty much equal to a medical degree, isn't it? Whatever you're going to say, Eve, we believe you.) "I was so excited when this study, revealed at the World Congress of Dermatology, showed pentapeptides are effective in reducing the appearance of lines and wrinkles."
Except that the World Congress of Dermatology wasn't even slightly impressed with the study, so no implication should have been made that it was. However, Procter & Gamble evidently thought, 'Hey, those slack-jawed civilians out there won't know this – or care enough to speak out'. Unfortunately for them, many members of the public – including at least one doctor – did, and the subsequent complaints helped finish the ad campaign.
OK, relatively few companies actually mislead their customers, but I'm getting increasingly sick of the many that consistently treat us like morons. In recent years, thanks to a growing volume of protest, things have improved slightly, but we're still treated to the sight of Davina and her "dramatised" squidgy balls, and loads of teeny-tiny small print which mentions that the model was styled using "natural" hair extensions, or is actually wearing lash-inserts – like we thought the woman with a hedgehog stuck to each eyelid looked like that naturally.
One aspect of advertising pseudo-science that irritates me beyond measure is the use of the word "technology" in tandem with things like shampoo, or mascara. You see ads for anti-frizz "technology", and lash-boosting "technology". I'm amazed no rocket scientists have objected to their life's work being considered equal to making someone's hair a bit shinier. It's all just the modern equivalent of snake oil. We know that members of the opposite sex will not tear their clothes off at the scent of our body spray; we know the only way to hydrate skin is to drink water; we know that the only anti-ageing formula is death.
We know that the only way a "slimming lip-gloss" will work is if it welds our lips together. We understand the irony of getting "natural" beauty out of a pot, yet still the cosmetics kings talk to us like we're village idiots.
The industry realises that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so the quickest way to fool us is to blind us with pseudo-science. Nice try, but we know it's rubber balls.