“My #FilterDrop campaign changed the rules around online advertising in the beauty industry”

When Sasha Pallari saw more and more beauty adverts on Instagram, she noticed how face-changing filters could be misleading to consumers. Here, she tells how she campaigned the Advertising Standards Authority for better regulations on beauty advertisements on social media.

At the start of the pandemic, like many of us, I had no idea how I was going to survive in my job as a make-up artist. I turned to Instagram with no expectation but saw it as an opportunity to share my skill and teach others how to do their own make-up at home.

We were all online more, we were all looking at ourselves more (hello, Zoom), and with societal pressures for women to look a certain way, I can only imagine we were all comparing ourselves more, too.

One day, I saw a huge beauty brand re-post a video of a make-up artist applying blusher. The video had a filter applied to it.

It was upsetting to see because, as incredible as it is that the world of influencing means we can make a living online, recommending anything without being transparent dampens that massively.

So, I took to my Instagram Stories to express my thoughts.

The response was astounding and because of that, I then decided to create a hashtag – and #FilterDrop was born. I told my audience I wanted to see their unfiltered faces, if they felt comfortable enough in doing so.

From then onwards, a #FilterDrop selfie was uploaded by followers every day for eight weeks and the amount of people sharing them just grew each day. I had messages saying that seeing so many unedited faces helped make them feel confident enough to upload their own filter-free photos. 

The more I looked into specific face-changing filters I started to notice how often people online were promoting products using them. I’m yet to find any type of reasoning for that to be acceptable, knowing full well our audiences rely on our recommendations. To further #FilterDrop, I thought of three outcomes I wanted to achieve from the campaign:

filterdrop sasha pallari beauty advertising campaign
Sasha Pallari began #FilterDrop in June 2020.

1) To spread awareness on how damaging these filters can be for our mental state. We all look ‘better’ by societal standards with them on – that’s why they’re designed. I wanted to encourage everybody to show more real skin, depend on them less and deter away from the entirety of their worth being on their image.

2) Instagram banned face filters promoting plastic surgery in 2019 and personally, I can’t see how changing my face shape using a digitally enhanced filter is any different. In an ideal world, all of the face-morphing filters would also be banned but I wanted to work towards some type of regulation on them.

3) I wanted people to have to declare when filters were used to promote products and cosmetics. I thought that if they had to go to the effort of stating which filter had been used, perhaps they’d choose not to, and we’d get to see those advertised more transparently.

filterdrop sasha pallari beauty advertising campaign instagram
Pallari posts videos and images showing how filters can alter an image and the way beauty products look.

Throughout the campaign, I voiced my opinions on how wrong I felt it was to use the filters to promote these products and my audience were consistently sending me examples from people they followed themselves.

So, I began by writing an email to beauty brands because a lot of the time, content has to be pre-approved and I wanted to know why these brands felt it was acceptable to sign off false advertising. One brand said they took my feedback on board (after I fought to get through to the right person rather than just being shut down by the PR) and appreciated me bringing it to their attention. They assured me that going forward they would monitor this better. Another brand’s response was that they saw no difference in the performance of the product with or without the filter.

On a few occasions I privately contacted other influencers who had used filters to talk about cosmetics and we had some great conversations, even if our opinions differed. However, going to every single content creator individually was never going to be feasible.

I decided to contact the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and wrote a formal email expressing my concerns. I included examples of filtered commercial content and asked for their thoughts. Their response was that it was worth investigating. At this point, though, I actually don’t think I could have ever comprehended what the outcome would be.

The ASA selected three adverts to review and dropped one of them, deciding to focus on just two in the ruling. I asked if the individual influencers were able to be kept anonymous if the investigation was going to progress but that wasn’t an option. I knew the answer should be that filtered advertising shouldn’t be allowed but there are plenty of things in life that aren’t applied when it comes to the online world. The email correspondence between myself and the ASA went back and forth for six months.

I made it very clear to the ASA that even though this ruling was now only focusing on two cases that my aim was for this issue to be applied across the board of online advertising. With each email informing me the case had been taken to the next stage came the anticipation and reality of what could actually happen if this was to be changed.

I’ve dreamt of changing things in the beauty industry since the minute I stepped foot in it. Getting an email from the ASA stating the investigation was going to the final monthly board meeting was like getting over the final hurdle of a race but being stood still, waiting for the time result.

I felt like I could relax my shoulders for the first time in six months. I’d spent been a lot of days refreshing my email inbox.

Then, I got the final email on Friday 22 January 2020 at around 4pm in the afternoon: “the ASA Council has now ruled and agreed with our recommendations that the ads in both cases breached the Code,” it read.

It finished: “Thank you for taking the time and trouble to bring the matter to our attention.”

I cried.

The outcome of these rulings means that all brands/influencers/celebrities are advised to not apply filters to content which promote beauty products if such filters are likely to exaggerate the effect the product is capable of achieving, even if the name of the filter is referenced in the Instagram Story. This outcome is an even further advisory ruling than the one I had first hoped for and so I’m really grateful at how seriously the ASA took this case.

I almost wish I could go back six months and trust my gut that this was going to be the outcome, because it really hasn’t been easy. Like anything worth fighting for, it never comes without the lows.

Going forward, this means that every single time somebody promotes a skincare or beauty product online, we have the highest chance of seeing real skin, real texture, real nose shapes, different lip sizes, the true product colour.

The amount of people that will no longer compare themselves to an advert that isn’t achievable without a filter is going to be prolific and I’m really proud of that. 

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Images: Sasha Pallari