L’Oréal’s Post on Protests Reignites Racism Controversy

As beauty brand drops "Lessons of Worth" campaign, fans are demanding it practice what it preaches

L'Oréal's new spot features spokesperson Viola Davis zeroing in on what the brand's tagline means. L'Oréal Paris USA

Academy Award-winning actress and producer Viola Davis, who signed on as the new international spokesperson for L’Oréal Paris last September, leveled with her Instagram followers in her latest post for the beauty brand. Echoing the message that L’Oréal has been sending to consumers since 1973, Davis tells viewers that “You’re worth it.”

In the two-minute video, part of a new campaign called “Lessons of Worth” created by McCann Paris, Davis expands on what that means, saying firmly and lovingly: “You have reason and rarity. There is value in each and every one of us—including you.”

The tagline “reminds us all that words matter,” said Delphine Viguier-Hovasse, worldwide president of L’Oréal Paris. “Not only the ones we hear, but more importantly, the ones we say to ourselves.”

L'Oréal Paris

But Davis’ video dropped on Friday, in the middle of an unequivocally tense moment in U.S. history. Over the weekend, Americans gathered to protest in cities all across the country in response to the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

L’Oréal made a nod to these events in its own brief social media post, saying that it stands in solidarity with the Black community and is “making a commitment” to the NAACP.

But the post wasn’t received well. Fans were quick to blast the brand for hypocrisy, pointing to the 2017 firing of a model for a Facebook post that denounced racism after a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Without an apology, the post seems to be falling on deaf ears with consumers.

In late August 2017, L’Oréal Paris UK hired model and DJ Munroe Bergdorf to appear in a foundation campaign. Days later, in response to the Unite the Right white supremacist rally in Virginia that turned deadly, Bergdorf posted on Facebook denouncing systemic racism and expressing frustration with the lack of understanding on the part of many white people. The post was removed by Facebook for violating its standards, and L’Oréal fired Bergdorf. Later, she became the face of the campaign for a rival beauty company Illamasqua.

Many activists and fans rallied behind Bergdorf following the model’s short stint at L’Oréal. Bergdorf maintains that lines from her post were taken out of context and twisted to indicate a meaning that she never intended.

L’Oréal said at the time that Bergdorf’s post was “at odds” with the brand’s values of “diversity and tolerance towards all people irrespective of their race, background, gender and religion.” The brand did not immediately respond to Adweek’s request for comment on the recent accusations of hypocrisy.

Bergdorf shared her response to the brand’s post on Instagram, saying, “You dropped me from a campaign in 2017 and threw me to the wolves for speaking out about racism and white supremacy.”


Consumers also chimed in across Twitter and Instagram, accusing the brand of hypocrisy. “It’s about time you issued a long overdue public apology to Munroe Bergdorf AND compensated her for the trauma you caused,” wrote author and influencer Megan Jane Crabbe on Instagram. “This is hollow unless you admit that you’ve used black women as props to show how many foundation shades you have but you certainly haven’t supported, stood in solidarity or spoken out for them before.”

But in what could indicate a shift in the brand’s stance on political messaging, Davis hasn’t been shy about addressing racism online. Flooding the actress’s Instagram feed before and after the new L’Oréal Paris video are posts calling attention to systemic racism and the events of the past week, as well as timely historical posts. Davis addresses disgraced finance worker Amy Cooper falsely calling the police on a black birdwatcher in Central Park, Floyd’s death, the May 31 anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre and a 2018 docuseries on police killings that Davis narrated.


Still, absent an apology for the firing of Bergdorf, L’Oréal seems to have lost its connection with the very audience that its “speaking out” post was meant to reach.

@klundster kathryn.lundstrom@adweek.com Kathryn Lundstrom is Adweek's breaking news reporter based in Austin.