Pro Tip: Don’t Use Trauma to Sell Make-Up

Urban Decay Ad

This week, cosmetics company Urban Decay used language and imagery associated with self-harm to market a new product and offended the Twitterverse.

Those of us who work in the behavioral health arena know how dangerous and traumatizing those type of images and ad campaigns can be. In a previous blog post, we talked about how the use of certain terms can drive people into the shadows and away from services and supports that lead to recovery. The Urban Decay product name and associated visuals could be a trigger for people who have experienced self-harm or suicide. Their approach also trivializes a serious illness, making it less likely that those who need help will seek it.

In response to the outcry, Urban Decay posted the following statement on Twitter, and as of this post, they have not removed the controversial graphics.

What’s the moral of this story? As communicators, we are all trying to get attention for our message, product or cause in a crowded news cycle. However, using language or graphics that the public finds insensitive, offensive and/or traumatic to gain attention is not the way to market.

Also, if your organization unknowingly uses terms or imagery that draws public ire, avoid Urban Decays response strategy of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Instead, quickly own and apologize for the mistake and then correct or remove the questionable content.

We can all make mistakes, but organizations lose credibility and trust when they expect us to believe that they didn’t know better, especially when they unapologetically continue using the same offensive marketing content and strategies.