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)
Nivea pulled a “White is Purity” ad … pic.twitter.com/NPghSOivzc— AJ+ (@ajplus) April 7, 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.
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
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.
Nahhhhh Urban Decay. “Razor Sharp” imagery on someone’s wrist is a no-go. https://t.co/RjyXpBCHMW— alyssa, the softball enjoyer, (@alyssakeiko) August 24, 2016
# 3 Chanel’s $825 Advent Calendar
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
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).
Okay, Dove…— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) October 8, 2017
One racist ad makes you suspect.
Two racist ads makes you kinda guilty. pic.twitter.com/hAwNCN84h2
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. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39489967
Chanel. (2020). (@chanelofficial) • Instagram photos and videos. Instagram.com. https://www.instagram.com/chanelofficial/?hl=en
Diderich, J. (2021, December 6). Chanel Responds to Social Media Controversy Over Advent Calendar. WWD; WWD. https://wwd.com/fashion-news/fashion-features/chanel-advent-calendar-tiktok-controversy-response-1235010649/
Friedman, V. (2022). Chanel, TikTok and the Beauty Advent Calendar Controversy. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/06/style/chanel-tiktok-advent-calendar-controversy.html
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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bushor.2011.01.006
Shamsian, J. (2016, August 24). Urban Decay posted a controversial tweet that evokes cutting. Insider; Insider. https://www.insider.com/urban-decay-razor-sharp-cutting-tweet-2016-8
Slawson, N. (2017, October 8). Dove apologises for ad showing black woman turning into white one. The Guardian; The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/08/dove-apologises-for-ad-showing-black-woman-turning-into-white-one
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