The British Skin Foundation walks the tightrope.

At least two adverts have blinked across my TV dulled eyes lately, which feature an outfit called The British Skin Foundation. Call me a cynic, but I assumed that this was a made up marketing organisation, but I was wrong.

The British Skin Foundation is not, as its name would suggest, a cadre of Doc Martens sporting neo-fascists, but an organisation that “exists solely for the purpose of supporting research into skin disease”. Quite snazzy they are too, with their web presence refreshed by Baigent Digital. According to “the BSF provides information and support for sufferers of skin diseases, and conducts research into new treatments and skin-friendly products by companies such as Dyson and L’Oréal”.

The British Skin Foundation seems to have 11 “corporate partners”, which way back in August 2006, if …THE WORLD’S LEADING…” blog is to be believed is actually 11 product brands. Four belong to Garnier, for example. Also P&G support the charity.

This clearly is a charity which has opted to climb into bed with the marketing guys from Gillette and elsewhere. But there is a moral dilemma here, and a tightrope to be walked. If these commercial relationships are genuine ethical partnerships, then this is all to the good. In return from the halo effect of something vaguely scientific and worthy being associated with your brand, the corporation gives the charity publicity and money. And if the BSF uses this revenue to genuinely combat excruciating conditions such as eczema then it seems churlish to complain.

Of course this is nothing new. I’ve worked on impotence treatments, for example, which have had relationships with The Men’s Health Forum, and the Impotence Association (now the Sexual Advice Association).

But there is something here which makes me feel uneasy. The British Skin Foundation is being used as a blatant credibility booster for skincare products, and I think this diminishes the credibility of the Charity. It’s one to keep an eye on. See for yourself how the charity is used in this commercial.

By Peter Kenny

I lead a double life. Identity #1. A writer of poems, comedy plays, dark fiction and the odd libretto. Identity #2: A marketing outlier, working with London creative agencies and my own clients as a copywriter and creative consultant.

2 replies on “The British Skin Foundation walks the tightrope.”

Below is a transcript of a forum discussion (anonymised), I initiated on the dermatology forum of a medical website 2 years ago :-

British Skin Foundation ( me) 17/01/2007, 8:26

Allow me to gatecrash your forum. I am a GP and also a rather sad individual who sometimes gets upset about misleading advertising (such as “up to 70% off” or “voted product of the year” – (by whom exactly?). So I saw an ad last night for the Garnier Ultra Lift range for “deep wrinkles”. It was full of impressive graphics and pseudo graphs subliminally presented and the products were said to be endorsed by “The British Skin Foundation”.
I Googled the BSF website and found that it is a registered charity supported by donations and funding research projects in the area of dermatology. I also found that the foundation is supported by 11 “corporate partners”, 4 of which are Garnier Ambre Solaire suncare, Garnier skin naturals, Garnier body cocoon and body tonic bodycare and Garnier natralia shower and bath. I also discovered that BSF is supported by the British Association of Dermatologists.
A trip to the BAD website reveals a link back to the BSF on the homepage.
So my question (if any Dermatologist out there knows the answer) is :-
What is the primary purpose of the BSF? Is it a research charity or does it exist mainly as an impressive sounding organisation, funded by companies like Garnier, for them to use in their advertising? If the latter, should the BAD have seemingly close links with such an organisation?

RE: British Skin Foundation ( an anaesthetist) 17/01/2007, 8:31
What do you think??????

RE: British Skin Foundation ( me) 17/01/2007, 8:33

I don't know, which is why I am asking.

RE: British Skin Foundation ( a GP) 17/01/2007, 8:40

I looked them up after seeing the ad too.
And then decided I really didn't care what they did!

RE: British Skin Foundation ( a dermatologist) 17/01/2007, 11:35

The BSF is a major fundraiser for clinical dermatology research.It's advisory board are senior consultant dermatologists. It has provided support for a research project done in my department, and it tries to support the sort of work that will not get funding from pharma companies or from the DoH.

Please support them

RE: British Skin Foundation ( me) 18/01/2007, 7:41

But don't you think that they are compromising their integrity just a little by endorsing expensive products of ? dubious value produced by one of their major funders?

I didn't do anything on that occasion but I am still as uneasy as you are about the apparently cosy reciprocal arrangement between the BSF and its corporate partners. I think I will send a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (not that I expect it to come to much).

Interesting! Yes uneasy is the word. There are some who would argue that there is a legitimate case for helping charities to become as financially savvy as possible, and this benefits the people they are advocates for.

I know that it was in vogue among agencies to promote mutually beneficial relationships between corporations and charity. They talked of this in terms of ‘corporate social responsibility’ and ‘ethical partnerships’.

I can’t help feeling suspicious of this relationship. It doesn’t help that they are positioned like the other pseudo-science elements in these ads.

Be interested to hear if you get any joy from the advertising standard authority.

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