Beware The Asterisk: A Scatter Brain Expose
Cue ominous “Jaws” music. Yes, they are tiny but they can be terrifying. In fact, asterisks have been known to change the intended tone of entire ads with their barely noticeable direction to read the itsy bitsy “disclaimer” at the bottom of the page.
Asterisks are not only scary, but they are obviously as prolific as bunnies. And by this I mean I’ve noticed a marked increase in their existence in recent months. In fact, about 4 out of 6 of the recent cosmetics print ads I’ve scanned lately contained those little buggers. So, why should you be concerned with these potent little punctuation markers?
First tip: Watch out for “Advertorials”
There isn’t an actual asterisk attached to this practice, but there might as well be. Always look at the top of the page to see if there are tiny words that say “advertisement”. Why? Well, because these days, many print ads are designed to look like editorial content implying the publication’s endorsement. They are usually wordy with a headline, multiple sub-headlines and multiple photos arranged in a format similar to the magazine’s design style. There’s nothing misleading about this format per se. I personally enjoy writing what I refer to as advertorial pieces mainly because they are wordy and I tend to be wordy myself. I’m just warning you not to confuse the look of an ad with honest to goodness editorial recommendations by the publication’s staff.
Second tip: Don’t skip the fine print
Even if you have perfect vision, you’ll need reading glasses to follow this. This is where there is an actual asterisk somewhere in the ad copy and the teeniest tiniest of disclaimers somewhere along the bottom of the page.
Garnier’s turned inside out
For example, Garnier Nutritioniste ran a two-page spread in a recent fitness magazine for their Skin Renew product. The ad features an absolutely gorgeous woman (of course) holding a juicy red tomato as if she’s getting ready to take a bite. In quotation marks is the statement, “It’s like getting new skin…from within.” Then there is a lot of yadda yadda, vitamin C, yadda yadda, lycopene, yadda yadda, great skin from the inside out, yadda yadda, dermatological-nutrients, ASTERISK. All of this copy sits alongside a picture of oranges, tomatoes and a molecular structure illustration.
Then at the bottom of the page in type so small I needed my reading glasses and a magnifying glass to read it, the ad states, ASTERISK “Dermatological-nutrients=ingredient complexes developed exclusively by Garnier to work on skin’s outer layer.
What? The outer layer? The photo and the copy all give the distinct impression that this skin care product works deep within the skin. Either that or you might just downright eat this stuff to get the benefits. In fact the product photo is the bottle with some of the product in a spoon!
Now granted, there weren’t any lies told here. Skin Renew might do exactly what it claims. However, the asterisk lets you know that it is a topical treatment and does not act systemically as the ad might lead you to believe.
Pantene runs a similar ad about their Pro-V Shine products. In fact, according to their ad you can get “moisture, strength and shine…all in one week!” ASTERISK. The little caveat here…the comparison is against a non-conditioning shampoo. So in fact, Pantene may or may not be any better than other conditioning shampoos on the market. They just make you think they are by keeping the pertinent information so small you’ll skip right over it.
The Beauty Brains bottom line
Now don’t get me wrong. Every asterisk doesn’t mean sketchy claims have been made. Sometimes they are there to note what makeup colors the model is wearing or that results were confirmed by independent research. However, my advice…grab your reading glasses, a magnifying glass or both, but checking out the very fine print is always “worth it”. *
What does the Beauty Brains community think? Have you seen any tricky claims that you’d like to share? Leave a comment!
*Sorry L’Oreal…I spoke ill of your sister company Garnier and now I’m stealing your tag line.
Scatter Brain is a real-life copywriter for hire. If you’re interested in contacting her with business opportunities, please write to “Scatter Brain” care of firstname.lastname@example.org.