Sun worshippers get the facts in bleak beauty ad

My favourite campaign - Boots took a tried and tested format and gave it a twist to alert viewers to the dangers inherent in tanning says Megan Horner

In a universally accepted convention, advertising for beauty products always shows beautiful people. A cream for cellulite always features perfect thighs; an anti-ageing moisturiser shows someone with the skin of a teenager – minus the acne.

So, it was no surprise last summer when, during the run-up to the summer holiday season, an ad appeared on my TV screen showing stunning models in bikinis. I expected perhaps a new Calvin Klein Eternity fragrance or L'Oréal "summer skin" ad.

But this ad was for Boots Soltan sun protection and this was a very different sort of campaign. It was a much bleaker piece of work.

Conventionally, we would see how Soltan keeps these beautiful people looking... well, beautiful.

But here, while strutting their stuff and pouting all the while, they age grotesquely before our eyes, thanks to the disfiguring effects of sun exposure.

One beach babe whispers: "If you could see the long-term damage UV does to your skin..."

Then, as her face grows wrinkled and marked by the sun, her similarly disfigured friend points out: "You'd use Soltan."

Delivering such a clear warning in a pastiche of a beauty ad allowed Boots to do two rather clever things: first, they inject an element of modernity into a dated skincare brand; second, in hijacking this tried, tested (and tired) format, they show very clearly the damage done to your looks in the long term by the immediate beauty ideal, the tan.

PR, national-press advertising around skincare articles and magazine advertorials supported the TV campaign, as did in-store activity across the country. "Sunshop consultants", plus "Safety in the sun" leaflets and store events coincided with Sun Awareness week last May, in partnership with Cancer Research UK.

This ad wasn't easy watching, but it was attention-grabbing. It is one of my favourite campaigns because it was brave, interesting and (most unusually for an ad in this sector) it credited its audience with some intelligence.

The format cleverly talked to young women like me. The harsh reality it portrayed showed that sun worshippers like me need to wake up to the facts and cover up in the sun.

Megan Horner is account director at Starcom Mediavest

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