Is Revlon really ready to get woke?

30 : 01 : 2018 Beauty : Advertising : Fashion
Live Boldly by Revlon Live Boldly by Revlon

Is an industry that has always tightly controlled the message of its spokeswomen really ready to embrace activist ambassadors and campaigns that marry makeup to social justice?

Victoria Buchanan, strategic researcher, The Future Laboratory

Last week beauty brand Revlon announced its new Live Boldly campaign, featuring five faces known not only for their model good looks but their online influence as both role models and activists.

The casting of Ashley Graham, a self-described body-activist and one of the only plus-size models to ever score a contract with a global beauty brand, as well as Adwoa Aboah, one of the fashion industry's most vocal activists, is a testament to the beauty industry waking up to the power of diversity. They appear alongside Imaan Hammam, Raquel Zimmermann, Rina Fukushi, and Achok Majak, who between them command over 23 million followers on Instagram.

Is an industry that has always tightly controlled the message of its spokeswomen really ready to embrace activist ambassadors and campaigns that marry makeup to social justice?

Take L’Oreal, who last year tried to transform its ‘Worth It’ messaging in an attempt to democratise the statement, casting Munroe Bergdorf as its first transgender ambassador and Amena Khan, the first hijab-wearing woman to star in a major western hair campaign. Both women were retrospectively fired and forced to step down because of messages shared on social media that caused a backlash amongst some consumers.

Days later, fellow L’Oréal spokesmodel Clara Amfo asked to be removed from the campaign in a show of solidarity and was soon joined by others within the industry using the hashtag #IStandWithMunroe.

‘Being an activist means calling people out,’ said Bergdorf in an interview after the incident. ‘I’m an activist. [I’m] not just saying what everyone else is saying and what everyone else wants to think and upholding the common consensus. L’Oréal knew that when they hired me.’

Revlon risks its messaging shifting from empowering to patronising by using these women to sell more makeup without also fully committing to the causes that matter to them.

Putting personal judgement aside, both women represent the complicated relationship beauty now faces in engaging with women that have historically been kept out of the mainstream conversation.

‘If those diverse voices are shut down for speaking out, then what is the purpose of the campaign?’ asks Humairah Adam in Gal Dem magazine. ‘Companies’ attempts to center campaigns around championing diverse voices are failing because those voices are prevented from being heard.’

A recent study by Beautycon media found that 61% of 15-34 year olds are already using at least one niche descriptor, for example sexual fluidity to identify themselves. Young women and men are redefining beauty to challenge outmoded ideas of race, gender, sexuality, politics, and even religion and they now expect brands to do the same.

As beauty shifts from a category of products to a cultural movement, women are looking to it as a springboard to create new communities and self-expressions.

‘It would be amazing for Revlon to take this opportunity to really listen to their ambassadors, and collaborate with them through long-term support of the communities and causes they each represent,’ says Yolanda O'Leary, brand consultant and co-founder of The Beauty Conversation. ‘Imagine if Adowa could 'nominate' the ambassador who comes after her from the Gurlstalk community – so that a lesser known 'activist' could also gain the benefits of having a global platform.’

The narrative of this new age of influence may be unpredictable, but 65% of consumers already say they will not buy a brand that stays silent on an issue they feel it should address according to Edelman. Revlon risks its messaging shifting from empowering to patronising by using these women to sell more makeup without also fully committing to the causes that matter to them. ‘Living boldly’ surely means more than ticking off a diversity checkbox?

For more on how you can use your brand as a vehicle for gender equality, read our Female Futures series.