*header image – Truth Coming Out of Her Well to Shame Mankind by Jean-Léon Gérôme.
There’s no shortage of drama in the beauty community. This we know to be true. However, most of the mess that garners attention is beef between vloggers or instagram models leaving their sponsorships undisclosed. What I see a lot of personally, though, is misbehaviour on the other end – the corporate end. Beauty brands stick their feet in their mouths, misstep, mess up, and downright insult both consumers and colleagues.
So what do I mean by misbehavior?
Often, it’s social media misuse. I don’t know what it is about corporations – beauty companies in particular – and social media but let’s say the social media presence of certain brands is shameful. From being directly condescending to consumers and insulting customers to using social media to cover up a bad reputation, numerous brands on every level of the market seem unable to handle instagram and twitter. I’ve seen this with drugstore brands as well as super-luxe eco labels.
I’ve seen brands leave rude comments on other users’ images, delete comments they find troublesome, call customers stupid for not using a product correctly, and even go so far as to impersonate unhappy customers on other brands’ posts. Brands also tend to handle product leaks poorly, taking to threats and tantrums. It’s like they have 12-year-olds manning the social media channels, and once there’s a scandal they blame some poor unpaid intern. This is a particular problem with brands with founders or creative directors personally manning social media channels for the brand.
Another point of criticism I have is when brands condescend to or attempt to manipulate or exploit bloggers and journalists.
What we do – write about beauty – is work and should be treated as such. I’m sure many beauty consumers would jump at the chance to receive free product in exchange for an instagram shoutout, no self-respecting blogger would. Free product is not a salary. And expecting to be featured in exchange for press samples is downright nonsensical.
This happens in beauty press as well, with certain brands expecting to be featured in editorial content in exchange for samples or ad space. Journalistic integrity? Anyone? As soon as a brand demands coverage in exchange for product, that coverage becomes advertising and can no longer be considered independent and unbiased. This reflects poorly on both the brand and the blogger or publication that agrees to such terms. It tells me most of all that the brand doesn’t have enough faith that their product is good enough to be featured independently.
And then there’s the use of derogatory language in marketing and product naming. I’m sure you’ve all seen the brand that used a racial slur in a nail polish name recently – and it’s far from the first nor will it be the last. Racial slurs, ableist terms, misogyny… it’s as if the product developers think their customers are too stupid to be upset and that those affected by offensive language aren’t worthy customers. To boot, certain ad campaigns and social media accounts use imagery that is directly offensive as well – images that objectify women, for instance, or aestheticize violence against women.
So how do we handle this?
Boycott? Or just critique?
I’ll be honest and say I’m not sure. For me, there are certainly a handful of brands I choose to avoid out of distaste for their marketing practices and lacking ethics, but at the same time, most companies mess up sooner or later and most companies barely notice a lost customer or two. I honestly believe the best way forward is open, vocal criticism from press and consumer alike. Whether you stop shopping with these brands is up to you.
What’s most important is that we all make it clear to these companies that their behaviour is abhorrent and we know better than to let it slide. When a brand makes an offer that doesn’t respect your integrity as a writer, be clear and say no and explain why. Talk to other bloggers to make sure they know their rights. And as a consumer – let brands know when they mistreat you. At the end of the day, they’re asking for your money, so the least they can do is be respectful.