Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

The enduring mystery of mascara ads

All right, I’ll admit it. I’m stumped. There’s a mascara ad on TV. Revlon or L’Oreal or Max Factor, I’m not sure, they all look the same, but it features that actress from Desperate Housewives, who tells us that this product gives lashes 12 times more volume.

Twelve times! Imagine that.

How do they measure this? How can they tell? How is volume defined? What is the benchmark? Did they do a double-blind test on a statistically viable sample of ciliary-deprived females? Perhaps if you suffer from incipient ciliary madorosis (not to be confused with superciliary madorosis) as a result of blepharitis or even trichotillomania, you could do with this sort of eyelash-enhancing miracle.

These sorts of spurious appeals to legitimacy are an integral part of ads in what is euphemistically called the beauty industry. Junk science, preferably demonstrated by little dancing balls in pores and arrows pointing at a graphic representation of the epidermis, is essential to ads for skin creams, shampoos and make-up. We all know it’s a load of nonsense, but we buy into it anyway.

What intrigues me though is how these advertisers come up with the degree of improvement supposedly offered by the products they are flogging. I mean, why 12 times more volume? The Maybelline ad is more circumspect, offering prospective customers the promise of a measly 9-fold improvement. (I know if I had the choice between 9 times or 12 times improvement, it would be a no-brainer.) Or shampoo that offers 42% fewer split ends. How do they measure that? Do they count individual hairs?

And so the mystery remains. Perhaps that’s as it should be. For, as with many aspects of our lives, it is best that we not look too closely, lest we shatter those precious illusions with which we cloak ourselves.