Controversial Advertising: Lush And Cruelty-Free Cosmetics

Lush Cosmetics has a reputation for natural beauty solutions. Their products are all vegetarian, while 81% are vegan and 70% of the products are preservative free. Lush prides itself on delivering high quality beauty solutions that are beautiful, unique, and as the name suggest, lush. The other quality Lush emphasizes about its products is that they are all cruelty-free, meaning that Lush doesn’t engage in any animal testing or experimentation when designing their products. As a stance, being cruelty-free has been somewhere between neutral and a boon for Lush, but one controversial advertising campaign may have pushed the envelope too far.

Crossed the Line for Cruelty-Free?

In April of 2012 at one of their UK stores, Lush, in partnership with the Humane Society, set up some live animal testing. But in the window was not a rat or a pig or even a monkey. No, a 24 year old model sat in the window beneath a sign reading “Take Animals Out Of Cosmetic Testing.” She lay on a platform that urged onlookers to sign a petition regarding animal testing. And then, for ten hours, a performance artist dressed as a lab technician brought onlookers face to face with the world of animal testing by injecting, blindfolding, force-feeding, shaving, and otherwise tormenting the young woman.

Misplaced Marketing

The response to Lush’s in-your-face marketing stunt certainly leaned more towards shock and disapproval of the scene than appreciation that this display brought their attention to animal testing. Furthermore, the Cosmetics, Toiletries and Perfumeries Association remarked that the display was misleading, as animal testing was banned from the cosmetic industry in Britain in 1998 and across the European Union in 2004. In fact, Britain has the strictest laws about animal welfare of anywhere in Europe, making the campaign seem rather misplaced.

Still, the reactions of onlookers make it clear that Lush’s campaign would likely have been judged problematic regardless of Britain’s laws around animal testing. Individuals simply walking by on the street were subjected to the sight of a young woman being evidently tortured in the window of a cosmetics shop. For many of Lush’s shoppers, its commitment to cruelty-free beauty products has been a major draw, but evidently that commitment doesn’t entirely extend to human women – not if there is a political point to be made.

What do you think of Lush’s campaign? Is this going too far or is this just the kind of button-pushing good advertising engages in?

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Bird Pilatsky is a PhD student in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. A graduate of Smith College, with a B.A. in English and the Study of Women and Gender. She works as an archivist and research assistant with particular interests in LGBT issues, disability studies, and literature. Bird also works as a summer camp counselor. She has worked as an art & layout editor, runs an active blog, and enjoys reading, running, and rollerskating.

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