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The Truth-In-Advertising Push


There’s a (slowly) growing push among retailers, brands and even politicians to make advertising campaigns as true and transparent as possible. It could even soon become a federal law.

There’s been a slow, steady drumbeat toward the movement for years, but ModCloth, the San Francisco-based vintage women’s clothing eTailer, prominently brought the issue back into the spotlight in 2014 when it signed a pledge that it would no longer make any post-production changes to any of its models or images. ModCloth then decided to make its new focus on transparent, honest, undoctored advertising its cause célèbre and began hiring models from its own customer base and using users’ own social media photos wearing its clothing in its ad campaigns.  

“Portraying women in an honest and realistic way is essential to fulfilling our brand purpose of empowering women to be the best version of themselves,” ModCloth Cofounder and CCO Susan Gregg Koger wrote in a blog post this past summer after meeting with Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) to discuss the importance of the movement. “It demonstrates to young women that measurements are a fact, not a judgment. We want to lend our voice and the support of the ModCloth community to this movement to stop the extreme and harmful photoshopping of women in advertisements.”

Ros-Lehtinen has also been a staunch supporter of the movement and one of the loudest voices in Congress pushing for passage of theTruth In Advertising Act. In fact, this past February, Ros-Lehtinen reintroduced the bill, also known as H.R.4445, that would allow the Federal Trade Commission to develop regulations and guidelines over the use of Photoshop and other image-altering tactics in ad campaigns.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the Truth In Advertising Act will ever gain any traction in Congress in the midst of a controversial presidential election and many more potentially pressing issues. The bill failed when it was first introduced in 2014, and according to the National Retail Federation, Ros-Lehtinen’s reintroduced bill this past February has thus far garnered only 13 co-sponsors and has yet to even receive a single hearing — let alone a vote.

Still, ModCloth and an increasingly growing number of retailers appear poised to continue pushing the issue forward.

“You would never have an advertisement for a drug that talks about something it can’t really do,” Lauren Whitehouse, ModCloth’s public relations manager, told the National Retail Federation’s STORES Magazine. “That’s a public health issue. And really, all these young women are having these negative perceptions of themselves … It’s affecting their mental self-image and sometimes their physical health, because we’re misrepresenting what clothes can achieve and what people’s bodies look like.”

Other retailers who have climbed on board the movement include Aerie, American Eagle Outfitters’ brand of lingerie and intimate apparel, that has been pushing its aerie Real campaign featuring un-airbrushed models since 2014. Aerie asks its customers to post their untouched and unaltered photos and videos wearing their products on its social media accounts, too.

“The purpose of ‘aerie Real’ is to communicate there is no need to retouch beauty and to give young women of all shapes and sizes the chance to discover amazing styles that work best for them,” Jennifer Foyle, Aerie’s chief merchandising officer, said in a statement in Jan. 2014 introducing the campaign. “We want to help empower young women to be confident in themselves and their bodies.”

Target also launched its own foray into more truthful, authentic advertising this past March with its #NOFOMO (no fear of missing out!) campaign, which the big-box retailer said is about “shaking off body insecurities and not letting anything get in the way of having fun in our swimsuits!”

Target used Barbie dolls to model Target swimsuits in a variety of body sizes, skin tones and hairstyles.

“At Target, we don’t dread swimsuit season — we celebrate it!” Target said in a statement announcing the campaign on March 1.

Whether or not more politicians will get on board the movement and push for the passage of the Truth In Advertising Act remains to be seen, but retailers certainly seem to be hearing and listening to their customers about it.

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