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Dove Racist VIdeo
If beauty brands slip up, a viral backlash can ensue, damaging the brand and its reputation.

Viral social media can create “selfie-made billionaires”, as in the case of Kylie Cosmetics (Robehmed, 2019). There is however a flip side. If beauty brands slip up, a viral backlash can ensue, damaging the brand and its reputation. Below are 4 examples of beauty brand marketing that can go viral for all the wrong reasons.

#1 – Nivea Purity (2017)

In the same year that Rihanna’s inclusive Fenty Beauty range was launched and was praised for inclusivity, German company Nivea produced a campaign titled “White Purity” with the caption “Keep it clean, keep it bright. Don’t let anything ruin it.” (BBC News, 2017). The resulting social media backlash called out Nivea for racism.

Screen Shot 2022 07 19 at 8.35.52 pm

Even more worrying was when alt-right activists claimed that the brand was “the official moisturizer/anti-perspirant of the #AltRight” (BBC News, 2017). Nivea took down the Facebook post, and publicly apologised stating “Diversity and equal opportunity are crucial values of Nivea: the brand represents diversity, tolerance, and equal opportunity.” (BBC News, 2017).

#2 – Urban Decay Razor Sharp

social media posts that go viral
Urban Decay Razor Sharp

Following the trend of swatching colours on skin, in 2016, Urban Decay showcased their new eyeliner colours across a model’s inner arm and wrist, which in itself is fairly innocent and uncontroversial. The issue lay with the fact that the product was called “razor sharp” and the end result looked like it was advocating self-harm in the form of “cutting”. Although Urban Decay said the reference was entirely unintentional (Shamsian, 2016), many on social media expressed their disappointment with the brand.

# 3 Chanel’s $825 Advent Calendar

chanel advent calendar
Image: New York Times (Friedman, 2021)

A series of videos by TikTok creator Elise Harmon showing her unboxing an advent calendar by beauty brand Chanel was viewed more than 50 million times, with each post receiving thousands of comments (Friedman 2021). Vanessa Friedman of the New York Times described the fallout over the posts as “the latest example of the vigilante justice meted out against powerful global brands by individuals willing to point out perceived injustice” (Friedman 2021). The first of the TikTok series is below:


Worth the hype? Probably not but it is pretty

♬ It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas – Michael Bublé

Bruno Pavlovsky, president of fashion and president of Chanel responded “This controversy is a bit of a shame because it was not what Chanel intended. Chanel thought it would please some of its customers by offering this type of product. Evidently, we see that you have to be careful and therefore, in future, we will certainly be much more cautious.” (Diderich, 2021).

Chanel deleted its inactive TikTok account (which users claimed was to block negative sentiment), however, Chanel’s Instagram account was flooded with negative comments and social media users were quick to post about the US$825 advent calendar that did not meet expectations.

#4 Dove: Transformation

Dove’s ad, since removed from Facebook. Photograph: @Naytemua

While Dove is known for promoting realistic beauty standards, the Dove: Transformation campaign was widely panned for an advertising video showing the transformation of a black woman to a white woman after using a Dove body product. Despite apologising for the lack of thoughtful representation of women of colour, Dove received over 3,000 comments, almost all negative, and Twitter users called for a boycott of Dove products (Slawson, 2017).

In an age of consumer empowerment brands must walk a fine line between being provocative and inappropriate (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2011). What seems like a great idea in the marketing department, may not translate well with consumers and can have a profoundly negative impact on social media.


BBC News. (2017, April 4). Nivea removes “White is purity” deodorant advert branded “racist.” BBC News; BBC News.

Chanel. (2020). (@chanelofficial) • Instagram photos and videos.

Diderich, J. (2021, December 6). Chanel Responds to Social Media Controversy Over Advent Calendar. WWD; WWD.

Friedman, V. (2022). Chanel, TikTok and the Beauty Advent Calendar Controversy. The New York Times.

Kaplan, A. M., & Haenlein, M. (2011). Two hearts in three-quarter time: How to waltz the social media/viral marketing dance. Business Horizons, 54(3), 253–263.

Shamsian, J. (2016, August 24). Urban Decay posted a controversial tweet that evokes cutting. Insider; Insider.

Slawson, N. (2017, October 8). Dove apologises for ad showing black woman turning into white one. The Guardian; The Guardian.

What Do You Think?

Please let me know your thoughts on this post in the comments section below. I’d love to hear what you think.



(1) Comment

  1. Unknown member says:

    Love this post!

    I feel like it perfectly captures the flip side of my post, feel free to read if so inclined 😉

    I love the real-world examples to highlight the social media faux-pas, especially as it covers brands that we are all familiar with.

    I found the post engaging and enjoyable to read, and I am looking forward to reading more of your posts in the future!

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