Marks & Spencer has brief encounter with Which?

The consumer mag gets its knickers in a twist over the slimming claims behind M&S's 'magic pants'.

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

Lacing underpants with caffeine isn’t just a recipe for a fun night out. For UK retailers, it’s also been a winning sales strategy – these specially designed ladies’ smalls have been flying off the shelves to such an extent that they’ve been dubbed ‘magic pants’. Marks & Spencer, for instance, is apparently now stocking them in three times as many stores as before. But consumer mag Which? seems determined to spoil the pant party: it argues this is less about magic, and more about the dark arts of marketing. Who’d have thought it…

M&S claims that, as a result of added aloe vera, caffeine and vitamin E, its £29.95 Anti-Cellulite Firm Control Waist & Thigh Cincher knickers protect against ageing and smooth the skin, while also having the effect of slimming and toning. Apparently people actually believe this stuff.

But not those party-poopers at Which?, who – after talking to plastic surgeons and a dermatologist – may have placed an indelible stain on M&S’s otherwise pristine pantaloon reputation. They argue that any slimming or smoothing effect is probably just caused by the garment’s tight fit, rather than the added ingredients. Any old tight-fitting pants would do exactly the same thing, they said, just by shifting moisture around under the skin.

For M&S, pants are serious business (just ask Jeremy Paxman). So it’s no wonder its PR people have launched a robust defence of the company’s knickers. All its claims, the retailer said, are ‘tested by a specialised laboratory under controlled conditions’. The mind boggles as to what this actually means in practice (although it doesn’t involve putting a pair on and wandering around an office environment, judging by the funny looks we got yesterday).

The Advertising Standards Authority’s code is pretty clear in its regulations covering situations like this: a company ‘must hold documentary evidence to prove all claims... that are capable of objective substantiation’. And while M&S’s assertions might sound far-fetched, the retailer does insist that it has solid science to back them up (though somehow we doubt they’ll be appearing in a peer-reviewed journal any time soon).

As anyone who has watched an episode of Mad Men knows, advertising is about selling dreams and aspirations, even if they are beyond the reach of us mere mortals. Unfortunately, in this case Which? seems determined to burst our bubble. Next they’ll be telling us that we’re not actually ‘worth it’ and that the future’s not actually orange but rather (as Stephen Hawking would have us believe) a pasty shade of beige. Science can be such a killjoy sometimes.

In today's bulletin:

Leaders ignore 30% tax hike predictions
Barclays cashes in on investment banking as profits leap to £1.8bn
Tesco and Sky off the hook with regulators - for now
Mervyn King: Election win will be poisoned chalice
Marks & Spencer has brief encounter with Which?

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