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Altered Advertising: J.Crew's Fun with Photoshop

When the clever website Photoshop Disasters caught J.Crew posting both "before" (left) and "after" pictures in its online store, the editor wasn't at all judgmental about the photo alterations -- just amused by the accidental juxtaposition of the images.  After all, everbody knows that fashion images are faked, from the clothespins down the spine of a designer dress in Funny Face to the wonders of retouching, airbrushing, and computer manipulation.  So what's the problem with thinner thighs via virtual custom tailoring?


Perhaps nothing -- unless such alterations materially misrepresent the product and could be considered false advertising.  One of the most famous such cases dates back to before your favorite law prof was born and involved food, not fashion.  Campbell's Chicken and Stars soup, to be exact.  According to an article in Advertising Age (unfortunately not linkable), the little pasta stars refused to show their faces on camera, sinking to the bottom of the bowl instead.  The ad agency solved the problem by adding clear marbles and bits of glass to the bottom of the bowl, and voila!  A perfect picture.  Until a competitor complained to the Federal Trade Commission and a group of law students calling themselves Students Opposed to Unfair Practices (yes, SOUP) got steamed.  Although the case was ultimately settled, it introduced the concept of corrective advertising and helped lead to the industry's establishment of a National Advertising Review Board.

So, do altered images like the one on the right risk the wrath of the FTC under 15 USC 45(a)(1), which bars deceptive pratices affecting commerce?  Probably not, unless the government decides that consumers are harmed.  Since clothing fits everyone differently, and trousers that are baggy on a skeletal model might be, well, close-fitting on the rest of us, J.Crew could even argue that its Photoshopping presents a more realistic picture of the trousers. 

Still, J.Crew's web troubles -- including order mixups that have apparently prompted a coupon offer as well as an apology -- offer a revealing look at the reality behind the ad images.  As well as confirmation that even models' thighs aren't that skinny.

 J.Crew bikini before (left) and after Photoshop