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November 18, 2011

Occupy is not a Frickin’ Maybelline Ad

Maybelline kissing cop

Women pepper sprayed 2
You know what’s messed up?

It’s when a cosmetics company turns a populist and embattled movement for economic justice into giggly, jiggly mind-numbing hamburger for the sake of peddling lip balm.  For Occupy Wall Street to be successful, it seems another critical front that needs to be opened up is: Occupy Madison Avenue. If not, the visual thinkers, buzz appropriators and cultural reverse-engineers driving the advertising and PR industries will continue to co-opt the symbols and “mental culture” of a largely gullible population in order to keep it consuming, craving and otherwise anesthetized. (There is no better reminder of the need to break down this engine then to realize that OWS, as an intellectual force, was inspired by a corporate culture-jamming outfit called Adbusters.)

Attempting to escape the news the other day for at least a couple hours, I was snuck up on by an ad at the movies for Maybelline. (I’m still pissed off that commercials have invaded the theater at all — but that’s another story.) What immediately jumped out at me was how much the ad appropriated the energy, youthfulness and visual trappings of Occupy.  What I’ve done here — to accentuate the contrast between the movement, and this glossy siphoning of the movement — is to juxtapose scenes from the Maybelline video with news photos, all but one of which was taken yesterday, of activities marking OWS’s two month anniversary and expressing the frustration over mass evictions suffered by the movement this week.

The lyrics to the video soundtrack, by the way? “Things are getting better, things are getting better, things are getting better every day.”
Maybelline Baby Lips protest Subway

James Estrin OWS 11 17 11

Maybelline protest bridge

Heisler Bridge Protest OWS 11 17 11


Maybelline Park protest

Tearing down tents Zuccotti


UPDATE/CORRECTION: I just exchanged emails with Steve Hall from Adrants.  Steve points out an important fact that I somehow missed.  That is, that the video is a little over a year old.  I apologize for the intimation that the ad was new and specifically designed to co-opt the Occupy movement.

That said, however (and this is probably the reason I didn’t pick up on the date), isn’t it curious I saw this in the theatre just a couple days ago? I imagine these ad people are savvy enough to see the opportunity/resonance today even if they had this sitting on the shelf — especially after the engagement with the police on the Brooklyn Bridge catapulted OWS to the big time. (And, how sexy/similar is this?) Seems remarkable the ad people wouldn’t think they had something suddenly very hot especially given the scenes in the video they did on the bridge.  To the extent I misled anyone or caused incorrect conclusions to be drawn against anyone in the visual industrial complex, my bad (this time).

UPDATE 2: Just read a comment at our FB site from someone else who just saw the video in a theater.  He writes: “(T)he version I saw was re-edited (from the version in that link) to be more relevant to today’s audience. ie. no horsing around on the runway/in the studio footage was included.”

Before writing the post, I looked high and low for the version I saw in the theater and couldn’t find it, but from my recollection of the movie ad, too, some of the flouncier non-protest stuff was removed. I have a snap or two from the theatre version that is more protest-oriented and includes at least one scene (above) of a model slapping a poster on a car. In the original, it wasn’t this emphasized or edgy.  If anyone has the chance to see the video in the theater and can bootleg a copy, or if you have access to the re-edited version of the original,  I’d be interested in analyzing it.

Video – Maybelline Baby Lips commercial.

(photo 1: Randy L. Rasmussen/AP/The Oregonian caption: A police officer uses pepper spray on an Occupy Portland protestor at Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland Ore., Thursday, Nov. 17, 2: James Estrin/The New York Times caption: Protesters passed out leaflets on the subway as they traveled to Foley Square for an evening rally. photo 3: Todd Heisler/The New York Times caption: (Occupy protesters) were joined by union workers on the Brooklyn Bridge. photo 4: Angela Radulescu caption: Police began tearing down the Occupy encampment. “I don’t want to leave,” protester Ben Swenson, 25, said, according to the Daily News. “It’s about social justice, equality, even rights.”. photo 5: Andrew Burton/Getty Images caption: Brendan Watts is beaten on the ground by police officers in Zuccotti Park on November 17, 2011 in New York City. A fight broke out between protestors affiliated with Occupy Wall Street and police, in which Watts was injured.)

  • BooksAlive

    Thanks for the Adbusters info. I believe that the Benetton and Maybelline campaign designers jumping on themes and use them in their advertising is a practiced model. I was invited, by mistake, to a focus group that was to target young consumers, so I experienced what goes on at the big PR offices.

    A telling column appeared in yesterday’s NYT showing the multiplying number of skin care products, and, no doubt, a similar price gradient. Are you going to buy the brand’s full range of 11 products, or 4 or 3? With proliferation of products. the task for Madison Street is expanding as well.

    Adbusters link:

  • Brennan Sarich

    This is so sad. I can’t believe companies would do this.  =(

  • Bystander Again

    My ability to use language is being challenged by the various responses I’ve witnessed to the Occupy movement, and these images – all of them – are mind bending.

    From the over reaction of the municipal para-military (I can’t think of them as a mere police department anymore), to the aggressive avarice by appropriating mirror images of the struggle for product promotion…

    As Atrios has said, “Late stage capitalism is awesome.” Awesome for me, as in: formidably dreadful, daunting, or appalling.

    These images as the alpha and omega, or bookends, for awesome.

  • Anonymous

    (I’m still pissed off that commercials have invaded the theater at all — but that’s another story.) 

    I’m not in the ad business but I’d guess that those few minutes before the show starts are some of their most productive. Think about it, you’re comfortable, just coming on to a sugar high, excited to be spending some quality time with Brad and Angelina, your disbelief in complete suspension. What better time to reach into your subconscious and rearrange some consumer preferences? You’re a lamb self-selected for slaughter.

  • Notfullyformed

    Not usually speechless, but this even takes my breath away…..BOYCOTT MAYBELLINE. All of their products. This is obscene.

  • bks

    The population is too aged to hope for a return to the “natural look” so at least the 1% is making occupy sexy.  That should help produce conflicts in the old white guys on disability who dominate, and NRO.  At least one can help.

    p.s. Still reeling from the use of a Dylan song in a Pepsi commercial.

  • psychohistorian

    These same marketing/advert folks have sold the world into wage slavery, what do you expect?

    Morals and ethics are for the little people……

  • Gassho

    I’m starting to see it !!

    Thank you, Michael (your insights here are awesome, as usual).  Your comment that we need to Occupy Madison Avenue (in conjunction with this article about Occupying Madison ) solidified something for me.

    I’ve been fed up with so many things about our politics and consumer culture for so long — and rejecting that has always taken the form of Secession from the union, or splintering off geographically — but what I’m seeing now is that it’s not a huge chunk (like California) that breaks off.. it’s more organic.. more like a FREEDOM VIRUS that springs up all over the place. More and more I’m seeing the movement as a “new America” or a parallel culture. General Assemblies of Occupy groups are deciding whether or not they will get permits or obey certain laws… DECIDING if they will follow the laws of the OLD system.  Think about that. 

    The Occupy Movement starts in tents in the dirt like seeds in fertile ground. It won’t always be about the tents.. the sprigs of a new form of life are shooting out.. and identifying them is to see history unfolding.  Occupy _____ !!  Occupy Madison Avenue! 

    I’m loving this. I was just getting depressed after visiting the muddy tents of OccupySF yesterday, but now I’m seeing it in a new light.

    • Michael Shaw

      I actually found this “quite uplifting” as well.

        I was into Adbusters and culture jamming way-back-when. (They actually published some of the first BagNews editions when it was just a brown bag.) I’m hopefully creativity is going to sustain the movement is some surprising, and surprisingly effective ways. 

  • Bystander Again

    Thanks for the update, Michael.  The resemblance was sufficiently uncanny that it wasn’t hard to imagine the connections.  Still, as you say… [I]sn’t it curious I saw this in the theatre just a couple days ago?  Curious indeed.

    • Michael Shaw

      Yeah, I felt like I’d slipped up when I discovered the date (a “life follows art” kind of thing), but the experience I had watching this piece of jiggly in the theatre, with everything Occupy has on the line,  makes all the critique worthwhile. Pushing this commercial now is as if they made it with intent.

  • Street

    Michael Moore, Russel Simmons , Jay-Z and Kanye have all been trying to cash in on hte movement.

    • psychohistorian

      Thanks for the laugh troll.  Now back under your collapsing, unmaintained bridge.

  • Cal

    The video doesn’t show all of the violence and crime caused by OWS. I’m assuming that’ll be caught in the sequel…or are you planning to ignore the guerrilla war tactics OWS is using against US citizens while pushing their movement? I know it’s the latest trend to ignore reality when reporting current events but there’s always the chance someone will set their sights higher. Do not support or praise the mob, because that’s what OWS devolved into as soon as they allowed the various interest groups inside them to start leading them. Lately their message is not about Wall Street, Jobs, or the Economy – but is very much so focused on rioting, violence, and a socialistic commune style living all with the irony of screaming for the upholding of rights while denying those around their encampments theirs. It’s hypocritical to say the least. Any self respecting liberal, scratch that, American would disown this criminal group in an instant if only to regroup a real grassroots movement that does not encompass violence as a value.

    • Michael

      Cal, Cal, please, go out, do some fieldwork, meet the people, see what they do, see how they set up a civilized scene, meet them on the ground. Please.

    • Ralfast

      And the link is to a old style forum nobody uses any more. Sad. And who are these US citizens suffering from OWS guerrilla tactics, because the only ones worried about it are the corporate citizens, you know the strawmen of the law that conservative courts have propped up as cardboard citizens. Aside from them,nobody else is intimidated.

  • 0merus

    I think your post still has a point.  In someways it explains how we got to OWS as a movement.  Marketing by its nature is designed to make you feel good, if not great and empowered by buying .  It has worked in the past.
    That people are realizing that Maybelline lip balm didn’t actually make your life better is probably a good thing.

  • George Mokray

    I asked Thomas Frank if he had seen ads which were precursors of the Occupy movement this morning at Harvard, what I take to be his argument in the book The Conquest of Cool, about how Madison Avenue co-opted the images of youth rebellion even before the youth rebellion started.  He said that he hadn’t yet seen such things but assumed that it would happen.  

    And now here you are with the evidence.

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  • Andrawn82
    Link to the full minute long version shown in theatres.

  • graphicgirl

    Hi, this commercial was produced in the Spring of 2010, WAY before the Occupy Wall Street Moment. 

  • Guest

    Met them, saw it for myself, and wanted nothing to do with it. I was in Denver just last weekend. Thanks though.

  • Michael
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