What marketers can learn from the backlash to Bioré’s influencer post

The brand has apologized after an influencer mentioned one of its products and mental health issues stemming from a school shooting in a sponsored post.
article cover

The now-deleted TikTok by @cecile, via YouTube.

· 3 min read

Last week, skin-care brand Bioré found itself in a bit of hot water after one of its influencer partners mentioned her experience with a school shooting in a sponsored post with the brand.

A video by Michigan State graduate Cecilee Max-Brown, who has worked with Bioré on past campaigns, was part of the brand’s campaign for Mental Health Awareness Month. She mentioned the anxiety and terror that February’s shooting at the university had caused her in a since-deleted TikTok that also promoted Bioré’s pore strips.

“Life has thrown countless obstacles at me this year, from a school shooting to having no idea what life is going to look like after college,” she said in the post. “In support of Mental Health Awareness Month, I’m partnering with Bioré Skincare to strip away the stigma of anxiety.”

Both the brand and Max-Brown have since issued apologies for the post.

Some said this is an example of why brands should pre-approve content before it goes live; however, Bioré had reviewed the content and did not want to place responsibility on the creator.. So what can other brands learn from this experience?

Authenticity is key…but to what extent?

Some may argue that this incident makes the case for using a script and reigning in some creative liberties given to creators. Maura Smith, CMO and SVP of marketing at creator partnership platform Partnerize, noted that providing guidelines to the creator and ensuring there is a thorough review process before the content is posted, particularly when the topic is around something sensitive like mental health, can be helpful.

“This is the battle that brands and influencers alike have to fight: ensuring that there is control in place with a proper balance of authentic content, because that’s ultimately what’s going to resonate with the audience,” Smith told us.

Get marketing news you'll actually want to read

The email newsletter guaranteed to bring you the latest stories shaping the marketing and advertising world, like only the Brew can.

Ali Fazal, VP of marketing at influencer management platform Grin, told us that another way brands can try to assess content is by having a “switch-off system” where people who typically review work with one creator partner get sign-off from someone who doesn’t typically work with that creator and can give it a more “objective and unbiased eye.”

The long game

When a creator wants to talk about something sensitive while promoting a product, Fazal suggested they create a series of posts or do longform content to make the juxtaposition less jarring.

“The reason why this was not successful is because within the span of one short post, a creator was talking very honestly and very authentically about trauma that they’ve experienced and also was trying to advertise a product,” he said. “That’s just too much to try to accomplish from one piece of content.”

Bioré is currently examining and reworking some of these processes, but even with multiple safeguards in place, Fazal noted that “mistakes happen in every form of marketing,” citing Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad from 2017. He applauded Bioré for being immediately responsive to the backlash, taking ownership of what happened, and focusing on outcomes versus intent, which he said a lot of brands tend to emphasize on when apologizing.

“Bioré immediately jumped into, ‘It doesn’t really matter what our intent for this partnership was, this is how people perceived it and here’s why we’re sorry,’” he said. “I think that went a long way with people because it felt very genuine.”

Get marketing news you'll actually want to read

The email newsletter guaranteed to bring you the latest stories shaping the marketing and advertising world, like only the Brew can.