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The "Ordinary People" Principle

29th July 2011

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Teint MiracleCan you be too pretty for the media?

The Guardian recently reported that ad campaigns for L’Oreal featuring actress Julia Roberts and model Christy Turlington have been banned in Britain by the Advertising Standards of Authority (ASA), because the advertisements were deemed “overly air-brushed”.  This verdict came on the grounds that the make-up, which the ads were advertising for did not upon investigation achieve the effect which was being promised/shown in the photos featured in the campaign.

This is really a case of false advertisement, but it personally made me question a comment I read a few weeks ago about the new season of Torchwood. Torchwood: Miracle Day is a co-production between the BBC and an American network, and is thus being shown in both countries at the moment.  The comment referred to the merge of the original British cast with the new American cast members, and stated that the looks of the British cast made the American cast members look fake and unnatural.

Now this is only one person’s opinion, but it certainly seems the British media is keener on featuring ordinary-looking people than the American media. The fact that the before mentioned ad campaigns have been banned in Britain, but not in the US, seems to support this notion. The BBC, for example, have for a long time had both a colour-blind principle as well as an “ordinary people” principle, when it comes to casting, meaning the talent of the specific actor or actress is valued higher than their appearance.

This is not to say that British actors and actresses are not good-looking, but the actresses are usually more curvy and the actors are often less muscular than their American counterparts. This representation of the ordinary person on TV is certainly ingrained in the British culture, but following the ban of the L’Oreal ad campaigns, I cannot help but wonder what it would take for the British media culture to become like the American one or vice versa.

I cannot recall ever hearing about an ad being banned in America, because the model featured in the ad had been overly photo-shopped, and surely this must give an unrealistic idea of what an ordinary person should look like, but on the other hand, media is business, and making your advertisement look as good as possible is surely just a response to how your competitors are conducting their advertisement.

So where is the line between what is good business and what is ethically wrong to distribute to the masses?

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