SMILING amid a cascade of colourful leaves, the little blonde girl in an Arran cardigan and wellington boots makes an enchanting picture promoting the joys of autumn in Scotland.
But last night the national tourism agency VisitScotland admitted the vibrant red leaves being caught by two-year-old Autumn Doring in Roslin Glen, Midlothian, were in fact fake.
The image is to be used in a 1.4 million campaign to promote what visitors can expect when they travel to Scotland in the coming months. The "Capture an Autumn Moment" campaign, launched yesterday, includes television and cinema advertising and is aimed at encouraging Britons to take "staycations" in Scotland.
But the use of the fake leaves, understood to be plastic, has once again raised questions about how far advertisers should go to achieve the perfect shot.
A spokesman for VisitScotland admitted: "The leaves are fake. The picture is designed to promote autumn and, despite the cooler weather recently and the fact that you can see four seasons in one day in Scotland, it was not possible to bring on an early autumn."
VisitScotland has been criticised in recent years for several promotional campaigns, including using a Polish model to represent a typical "Highland lass", and for depicting Scotland as a winter sports wonderland with images more than a decade old.
Professor Paul Freathy, of the University of Stirling's Institute of Retail Studies, said the tactic raised ethical questions.
"There was a great deal of controversy a few years ago when some travel companies used photographs of hotels with swimming pools, claiming they were in Turkey when they were actually in Cyprus," he said.
"If you digitally enhance a photograph to lay false claims to what a country can offer then that certainly is false advertising and unethical. Prime examples would be putting mountains in a brochure for the Netherlands or tropical palms or an oasis in the desert.
"The question to be asked about the VisitScotland autumn promotion photograph is 'if I was a visitor coming to Scotland, would that photograph misrepresent Scotland?'
"If it is the case that leaves do fall in Scotland in the autumn then I, the customer, would not feel hard done by."
John Morgan, chief executive of Glasgow-based Merle agency, said: "I don't see any problem if you are only enhancing a photograph." The campaign's promotional literature quotes Autumn's mother, Fiona, from Edinburgh, saying: "Autumn loves to play outside at this time of the year.
" We visit the Borders a lot and she has great fun playing in piles of leaves and puddles.
"I try to remember what I did during family holidays when I was young and try to recreate those magical times with my wee girl."
VisitScotland chief executive Philip Riddle said: "Autumn is the perfect face, and name, to help us launch our latest seasonal campaign. Autumn is a great time to visit Scotland and this year we want visitors to remember how they spent childhood holidays and recreate that magic with their families and friends in Scotland."
Every picture does indeed tell a story – but not necessarily the whole truth
A NUMBER of high-profile advertising campaigns have come unstuck after details emerged that all was not what it seemed.
• A promotional poster for Homecoming 2009 was electronically adjusted to include an Asian face.
Geoff Palmer, president of Edinburgh and Lothians Race Relations Council, described the change as "tokenism" aimed at deflecting claims the campaign was aimed solely at affluent, white Americans.
• VisitScotland's winter White Campaign to promote winter breaks in Scotland launched in 2006 raised eyebrows after it featured a photo of Agnes Gornicka, 21, from Poland, to represent a typical "Highland lass".
Speaking at the time, Jamie McGrigor, tourism spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, said: "There are plenty of beautiful Scottish women and there are plenty of beautiful Scottish models."
• The following year VisitScotland again attracted protests after depicting Scotland as a winter sports wonderland of white-capped mountains and frozen waterfalls – using photographs more than a decade old.
The tourism organisation admitted the ice-climbing footage was filmed in the 1990s. However, many mountaineering experts maintained those feats were now almost impossible because of global warming.
VisitScotland said the ads were meant to promote Scotland as an "adventure destination".
• Many fashionistas have maintained the promotional photographs for David and Victoria Beckham's Intimately Beckham "his" and "her" fragrances were altered to give Victoria a bigger bottom.
Mrs Beckham was photographed wearing a slinky dress draped over her husband. But the photos give her a "J-Lo" style curvy bottom at odds with the ex-Spice Girl's rigorously maintained figure.