Case Study: Urban Decay Razor Sharp Eyeliner

Urban Decay Razor Sharp EyelinerUrban Decay is a cosmetics company known for their edgy, cruelty-free products. Their brand motto is even “beauty with an edge.” However, that edge might be too sharp for some, as a recent social media post on Twitter appeared to glorify cutting and self-harm.

Founded in January of 1996 by Sandy Lerner and Pat Holmes, Urban Decay’s original tagline was “does pink make you puke?” They rebelled against typical cosmetic ideals, producing alternative eyeshadows with names like Acid Rain, Smog, Roach, and Oil Slick.

In their brand statement, Urban Decay encourages customers to “go from a pixie to a vixen, from a rock star to a starlet. Be who you want to be today, just don’t be average. Urban Decay is beauty with an edge. It is feminine, dangerous, and fun.. appealing to celebrities, rock stars and anyone who relishes her individuality and dares to express it.” This statement deeply resonates with their target audience of young adults looking for an alternative cosmetic line.

Urban Decay quickly became known for their products like Perversion mascara or Vice lipsticks shaped like bullets. Their infamous line of Naked eyeshadow palettes caused a stir upon release in 2010. The release of a new product in August 2016, Razor Sharp Liquid eyeliner, was just as heavily anticipated.

The post

Social Media PostTo promote this new eyeliner, Urban Decay created a post on the social media platform Twitter that asked, “Ready for some razor sharp swatches, UDers?” It featured an image of a forearm with carefully drawn, thin and straight lines of eyeliner across it.

This practice of swatching makeup is a common trick in the makeup and beauty world. Beauty bloggers and brands frequently employ this visual to present products as they might appear on your skin. However, the phrase “razor sharp” next to thin lines across a wrist suggested self-harm, also known as cutting, to many Urban Decay Twitter followers.

The negative reaction was instantaneous, with many followers tweeting back their disgust at the potentially triggering image. The post remained live on social media for at least 12 hours, and generated plenty of outrage as well as support for the edgy cosmetics brand.

Social Media Reaction

Social Media Reaction

The response

Urban Decay finally responded with a quick follow-up tweet, explaining to their followers that they swatched on the inner arm “to show texture and shades. We didn’t intend to reference self-harm as the product is named Razor Sharp Eyeliner.” This explanation did not placate followers that believed that the company was mocking or glorifying self-harm. Urban Decay deleted the offending tweet later in the day.

Urban Decay Response

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that that self-harm is a major risk factor for suicide. Between one-third and one-half of U.S. teens have engaged in some sort of self-injury, mostly through cutting and burning. Another shocking statistic is that 70% of teens have made at least one suicide attempt.

Given their target demographic of young adults, Urban Decay’s ignorance of self-harm and suicidal tendencies was shocking to many customers and definitely eye-opening for their digital media and PR departments.

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