When someone thinks about an influencer ad on TikTok, a few things come to mind: a bedroom or bathroom environment, a casual voiceover and imperfect camera work. The combination of these elements is meant to imbue an air of relatability—look at how easily this product can be slipped into anyone’s daily life.
That is exactly the approach TikTok influencer Cecilee Max-Brown took when creating an ad for the skincare brand Bioré last week. The video featured Max-Brown discussing how she prioritizes mental health over footage of her exercise routine, her outfits and her Bioré products.
But midway through the since-deleted clip, Max-Brown also talked about the February shooting at Michigan State University, the school she recently graduated from. And furthermore why in support of mental health awareness month, she was “partnering with Bioré Skincare to strip away the stigma of anxiety.”
The video quickly went viral. But not in the way a brand or an influencer hopes to get millions of views. Instead, most of the feedback was negative. With some criticizing Max-Brown for making light of a traumatic event. And others accusing her of profiting off of a school shooting. Max-Brown has since apologized for the deleted video, writing that the post, “was meant to spread awareness about the struggle that [she] has had with anxiety since our school shooting.”
For years, brands have commodified mental health and self-care as a way to convince people that their products can be a solution. Other beauty brands, like Maybelline and Rare Beauty, have launched mental health campaigns similar to Bioré’s. In other words, if you want to sell some products during mental health awareness month, just send an influencer some free products or pay a creator to film a get-ready-with-me while talking about their anxiety while they apply your brand’s makeup.
It shouldn’t be shocking then that Max-Brown applied her personal experience attending a university where there had recently been a school shooting as a way to promote Bioré’s products. More importantly, however, Max-Brown’s video is emblematic of the long-standing issue of brands trying to both promote their products while also pretending to care about serious topics. That’s not to say that Max-Brown’s decision to talk about school shootings as part of a sponsored post was the right one. But it’s on Bioré, who oversees the content its influencers are making, to step in when an influencer promoting the brand’s products has stepped in it. In response to the backlash against Max-Brown, a Bioré spokesperson told the New York Times that the company does not edit or censor influencer content, though it does review the posts. In addition, the skincare brand apologized in an Instagram post for not “providing better guidance” to its content creators.In other words, they’ve basically left Max-Brown to face the consequences of the company’s failures on her own. Though Max-Brown has deleted the video and turned comments off on her apology, people have flooded the comments on her other videos with criticism. This too, is at a time when women and young adults are experiencing increased rates of diagnosed depression thanks, in part, to social media. Which is perhaps the most ironic facet of this episode wherein a company is paying a young woman to promote their products under the guise of supporting people’s mental health Bioré as a company will be just fine. Max-Brown’s career as an influencer, we’ll have to wait and see.
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