Skincare brand Bioré is apologizing after a promotional video used the trauma associated with surviving a school shooting to promote its pore strips.
Last week, Cecilee Max Brown — a popular TikTok creator with nearly 30,000 followers — posted a video sponsored by Bioré to promote the brand’s campaign for Mental Health Awareness Month. In the video, Brown repeatedly mentions struggling with the aftermath of surviving a school shooting at Michigan State University in between footage of her using Bioré skincare products.
The Michigan State University shooting — where a gunman killed three people and injured five others — occurred in February. For some students, it wasn’t the first school shooting they’ve endured.
» READ MORE: MSU students who graduated from nearby Oxford High have experienced two shootings in under two years
“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,” Brown said in her now-deleted TikTok. “I will never forget the feeling of terror that I had walking around the campus for weeks in a place I consider my home. With countless anxiety attacks to cry alone in my room at night.”
“My message to you guys is that it’s okay not to have it all together. Life continually changes, and your thoughts will too. Do things that make you happy and know that everything will work itself out. Join me and Bioré Skincare in speaking up about mental health,” she said.
The video was met with a fierce backlash, prompting Brown to turn off comments and eventually delete the video (though it has been saved and reposted by countless accounts ). Critics turned to Bioré’s social media accounts to sound off, questioning who approved the video’s content and why the skincare company thought tying school shootings to a pore strip ad was OK.
“I won’t purchase from a brand that uses gun violence as a marketing tactic,” one user wrote on Bioré’s TikTok account.
“Are the strips bulletproof?” said another user.
“You should rethink your marketing department,” wrote another.
Across the country, gun violence at schools impacts today’s youth and has sparked a surge in activism. According to Education Week, there have been 22 school shootings resulting in injuries or deaths this year and 12 fatalities. Online, school shooting survivors and activists against gun violence have been speaking out about — and sometimes mocking — the Bioré ad.
Mia Tretta, 18, an activist who was shot during the 2019 Saugus High School shooting in Santa Clarita, Calif., tweeted in response to the Bioré ad: “I don’t know why my therapist or docs didn’t tell [me] that Bioré pore strips could have helped heal the bullet wound on my stomach, or my anxiety after being shot, or my fear of loud noises, or stop my nightmares, or help me feel ok at school.” She joked about firing her health professionals and buying the pore strips in bulk instead.
Others who say they attended or attended Michigan State during the time of the shooting critic Brown’s willingness to monetize the traumatic event.
When Kelly Branigan, an MSU alumnus who graduated weeks ago, first saw the TikTok, she thought it was a joke.
“It was so tone-deaf and the delivery of equating a school shooting to figuring out life after college is so far removed from each other, it was almost comical to hear,” she told The Inquirer. “It feels like the brand, and honestly, the creators are exploiting what happened to us for money.”
The Bioré debacle isn’t the first time a brand has used school shootings to sell products or gain popularity.
Following the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in 2012, one memorial post on Facebook redirected followers to an artist’s hip-hop page, HuffPost reported. A Texas gun shop used the incident’s timing to offer discounts on guns for teachers. Kmart posted a “thoughts and prayers” post along with a hashtag for its #Fab15Toys sale, though the brand later retracted the tweet and said the hashtag was an accident.
Following the backlash, both Bioré and Brown posted apologies on their respective social media accounts on Sunday.
“Our consumers have told us that mental health is one of their biggest priorities, and it is so important for us to be able to provide meaningful support to them around this issue,” Bioré said in an Instagram post. “This time, however, we did it the wrong way. We lacked sensitivity around an incredibly serious tragedy, and our tonality was completely inappropriate. We are so sorry.”
Bioré went on to urge critics to “direct any anger our way, not towards the creators themselves.” In the comments section, several users said they still felt like Brown shared culpability.
In a TikTok post viewed about 4,000 times as of publication time, Brown also apologized.
“This was strictly meant to spread awareness about the struggles that I had with anxiety since our school shooting. This partnership was not [intended] to come off as the product fixing the struggles I’ve [had] since this event. Rather, partnering with a brand to spread awareness of what [I] and so many other students have been dealing with,” she wrote. “I did not mean to desensitize the traumatic event that took place as I know the effect that it had on me and the Spartan community. I take accountability for this and will ensure to be smarter in the future.”
Branigan, the MSU alum, said she blamed Bioré first for putting Brown, a survivor, “in the position to share … even if she felt comfortable.”
“It’s a joke that a well-known brand would ever think it was okay to approve something like that,” he said. “And it’s sick that we are now monetizing school shootings.”