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Cosmetics Employee Called Out By Friend Over Company’s ‘Racially Insensitive’ Marketing Campaign

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For those of us with extensive work history, we at one time or another have filled a position we felt particularly qualified for. It was fulfilling work, because we felt we were doing a good job.

But sometimes our loved ones do quite a number on our confidence.

An individual who works in the cosmetics and beauty industry wrote into the “Am I the A**hole?” (AITA) subReddit after receiving what felt like less-than-justified feedback from a friend.

Redditor Substantial_Sun_9901 explained on the sub that the marketing campaign they had developed was thoughtful, and they believed their friend’s concerns were out of place.

Still, for the sake of the friendship, the Original Poster (OP) wanted to know if they overreacted to their friend’s critique.

The OP asked the sub: 

“AITA for telling my friend to p**s off after she said the marketing campaign I led was racially insensitive?”

The OP was really excited to have their first marketing campaign.

“So I work for a very large multinational cosmetics company in their in-house marketing dept.”

“Recently I was given the chance to lead a small marketing project for a South Korean makeup brand my company just acquired. It’s pretty small and hasn’t gone global but it’s already got a solid customer base in Korea, so I was pretty excited.”

But a friend of theirs was less than enthused with the results. 

“Anyways we finished the campaign a few weeks ago and I posted a few videos and photos on my own personal social media.”

“Immediately a friend of mine commented on why I’m promoting a brand that appears intentionally non-diverse (the ad features 4 Asian women each holding a foundation product, all lightish shades natural only for Asian complexions). I DM’d her saying it’s a Korean ad specifically for Korean women (hence 0 English anywhere), assuming that was sufficient explanation.”

After not receiving the response she wanted, the friend took matters into her own hands. 

“Then, a few days later I see her publicly calling me out and saying how disappointed she is that her friend is promoting ‘racial erasure’ in cosmetics, which she says is a huge problem.”

“Anyways I messaged her again to please not use me as some kind of villain in an issue that’s not even relevant to my specific campaign. She tells me she’s just ‘calling it as she sees it’ and I get mad and tell her she’s an id**t and to go f**k herself.” 

The trouble didn’t stop there, either. 

“Long story short, she ended up posting our entire exchange as a way to ‘out’ me as some kind of bigot.”

“Thankfully most people who actually know me thinks she’s out of line, but I have gotten some harassment from randoms.”

“I feel a little bad because a few friends have told me I should have had a dialogue with her over her concerns. I think I definitely lost my temper after she targeted me directly and I was also upset she completely ignored my first explanation. But yeah, I still told her to F off which is there in text.”

“AITA?”

The OP came back to further clarify the purpose of her friend’s rant. 

“Edit: to everyone asking if the ad promoted colorism, no, the shades are actually very well-ranged for natural ASIAN skin tones.”

“There are 4, ranging from a medium/darkish tan to very pale. These are not all extremely white, artificial shades.”

“The brand is actually supposed to reject S Korean ‘whitening’ trends by letting women embrace their natural skin tones. However it still only caters to East Asian women.”

“The diversity this girl wanted was in terms of race (eg she was upset there were no black/brown girls).” 

Fellow Redditors wrote in anonymously, rating the OP’s reaction on the following scale:

  • NTA: Not the A**hole
  • YTA: You’re the A**hole
  • ESH: Everybody Sucks Here
  • NAH: No A**holes Here

Some were quick to point out the OP was not at fault, given their background in marketing.

“NTA. Does she work in marketing? Does she know how to market to particular demographics? From what I’m hearing the answer to both is no.”

“The explanation that it was a Korean ad specifically for Korean women should have been enough, and she should NOT have publicly called you out before talking to you about it more. I would have told her to f**k off too.”datasstoofine

“No actually. To push too many ethnicities in a region like South Korea would be folly and lead to the marketing campaign failing to some extent.”

“Regional campaigns have to essentially represent the region they are running in. Since South Korea largely has one ethnicity living there, The campaigns there have to reflect that to be relatable to the people living there and to then be successful.”

“You were completely correct and you’re the one in the field. You know what you’re doing. I don’t understand why that’s so difficult for the friends to understand.”BibliophileLurking

“Also, they need to show their products, having skin colors in the ad other than what they sell would be misleading. You would end up with people who could use the product not buying because it looks like it’s not for them AND people with the other skin tones trying to buy a product which doesn’t exist!”Cayke_Cooky

“I’m sorry but ethnic Koreans are 96% of the population and non-eastern Asians living in Korea (including black Koreans) aren’t more than 300 thousand people in a country of 51 million.”

“So it really doesn’t make sense for a makeup campaign to target less than 1% of the population, even if it’s unfair.”Crazy4Swift

“The friend is extremely narrow in her politics. She only [complained] about racism at this ‘global company’ that must represent everyone at all times.”

“Why did she not complain about the fact that there were no men showing off the makeup? Lots of men around the globe. Babies too, any of them? How old were the women in this ad, any over 70? Over 40? Is the product vegan?”

“No, because its not trying to be all things to all people, and nor should it. Advertising is about knowing your demographic and selling it to them specifically. Yes, there are times when the advertising world falls down in the inclusivity dept. But the marketing of a Korean product to Korean people in Korea isn’t one of those tones.”Crafty_hooker

Other Redditors immediately thought the OP’s friend was wrong for putting the OP on blast. 

“I’m guessing this friend is upper-middle-class, college-educated and western, from a big city?”

“Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the push for diversity we’ve seen over the past few years. But publicly dragging an acquaintance to show what a good ally you are isn’t exactly how we’re gonna solve racism. You’re NTA and she needs to get off social media and volunteer somewhere or something.”Dirmanavich

“she struck first and hard with a public shame INSTEAD of being tolerant (as i am sure she touts herself as) and having a conversation with you and learning, and seeing from a POV other than hers, and the process of what you and your team go through to determine a specific campaign.”

“she made no change occur in your corporation, if she was true to want to see a change with for global company she could learn a little more about marketing and demographics.”

“publicly shaming you was totally uncalled for, she didn’t consider the emotional toll it might take on you, your mental health, and the door it opens for trolls, and god forbid a dox!! a true friend would not have done this. exclaiming FU is not an a** move.”loginmjm

“Look, you’re right about the ad campaign and your friend is wrong.”

“But the bigger issue to me is that your ‘friend’ feels a need to publicly shame you for not doing what she thinks is best/right.”

“Honestly, I think given you work in marketing any continued contact with this sort of person is just a liability. I would end the friendship and block her on everything. She seems a threat to your career and frankly weirdly attention seeking at your expense.”TheHatOnTheCat

“NTA. People like your friend (though she sounds like anything but a friend) are always looking for a reason to call people out. If they can’t think of a reason to be offended, they’ll create one.”ComprehensiveBand586

“what’s up lately with ‘friends’ accusing other friends of being a racist and then that ‘Friend’ being upset that their racist friend takes offense. You call me a racist to my face and we’re going to have some serious issues.”WW76kh

It’s obviously important to be mindful of inclusivity and diverse representation.

But in a marketing campaign meant to cater to a very specific group of consumers, is the level of diversity the OP’s friend is demanding even possible, or good for the campaign’s success?

McKenzie Lynn Tozan

Written by McKenzie Lynn Tozan

McKenzie Lynn Tozan lives in North Chicago, where she works as a poet, freelance writer, and editor. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University, and her BA in English from Indiana University South Bend. Her poems have appeared in Rogue Agent, Whale Road Review, the James Franco Review, Thank You for Swallowing, and elsewhere; and her essays and book reviews have appeared with Memoir Mixtapes, The Rumpus, BookPage, and Motherly, among others. When she's not reading and writing, she's in her garden or spending time with her family. For more, visit www.mckenzielynntozan.com.