Did you notice some flames shooting from your Instagram this weekend? It might have been all the fire being directed at Deciem, parent company to the Ordinary, the internet’s much-loved affordable skin-care brand. Last week, the maker of $10 hyaluronic acid (and endorsed without advertisement by Kim Kardashian West), took a popularity hit on social media thanks to Deciem CEO, Brandon Truaxe’s series of unfiltered Instagram posts which were so personal and rant-y that some called them “Trump-like.”
It’s unfair to compare the creator of an inexpensive retinol serum with a president who allegedly tweets in his bathrobe, but there are some communication similarities. Both pride themselves on being mavericks, unguarded, and honest. In modern corporate-speak, it’s a company value called “transparency” The same openness that led him to dismiss much of the skin-care world as “gray fluff,” is also what drove him to post five pictures of garbage and publicly apologize to a former competitor (Drunk Elephant) and announce to a former brand partner that they were dropping his sub-brand — all on Instagram. It’s either real or too real, depending on how you view companies should communicate today, and Instagram commenters have been weighing in.
This weekend, Truaxe, who continued to take over his company’s social-media feeds, indicated that transparency and realness go both ways, for companies and consumers. He posted a new Instagram video calling out people for being “disrespectful,” and announced that he will be deleting “any negative comments unless it’s constructive and useful criticism.” Then he dove into the comments. Some of his responses were positive, thanking people for their support. Others, responding to comments that appeared to touch a nerve(such as those calling for Estée Lauder, a minority shareholder to intervene), were categorized by subsequent commenters as “rude” and “childish.”
One user, @heyybrianne, posted a comment that posited Truaxe’s comments were digging the “company into a deeper hole.” (This got 41 Likes). Deciem, via Truaxe wrote back, “You need more followers,” followed by an Instagram kissy Emoji face. (This one got two likes). One user @Skintrovert, who was active in commenting on @Deciem’s page, received an unsolicited capital “HAHAHAHA” comment when they posted about their love of Nivea. (Perhaps this was in relation to the brand’s overseas controversy).
In response to some of Truaxe’s Instagram comments, some users decided to boycott the brand. Reddit threads began forming about The Ordinary dupes. Some threw their entire top shelf-like assortment products into garbage cans (while thanking them for changing their skin) and even set them on fire proclaiming, “This is @Deciem on fire.” A few were angry that they were being blocked by the brand for petty offenses: expressing their opinion, liking critical comments, or asking if Truaxe was okay.
The main source of Instagram ire came from Truaxe’s response to user @Supermormongirl (now deactivated) who asked, “Brandon, are you okay??” “Yes but you don’t seem so well,” Truaxe responded. “Please use Modulating Glucosides when it’s out. Goodbye.” Quickly, the commentariat alleged that the product recommended was a skin-lightening product and that he was suggesting a person of color use a bleaching product. “The Ordinary CEO tells a black girl on Instagram to bleach her skin,” some sites alleged.
In reality, the Instagram pile-on was partially the result of one of the frequent complaints about Deciem products: An opaque, difficult-to-understand clinical product name. Modulating Glucosides (“sorry about the name,” Truaxe says) is a soon-to-be released product from NIOD, another sister company of Deciem. It allegedly contains ascorbyl glucoside, which — according to the Ralph Nader of skin care, Paula’s Choice — is a stable form of Vitamin C, and helps with hyperpigmentation and reducing dark spots. There are plenty of Vitamin C products on the market, none of which “bleach” the skin. However, as Truaxe explains in this video about the not-yet-released product, the product is also a “repair” product that “reduces inflammation.”
In essence, it’s a “calming” product, and Truaxe was trying to sassily tell her to calm down while promoting the brand’s next new launch. Yesterday, Truaxe continued to post on Deciem’s Instagram and said, “NIOD’s upcoming Modulating Glucosides calms things down and does not “bleach” the skin. I’m sorry that I may have caused confusion about its function which I had described in more detail in a video with lovely @nadinebaggott.”
Several Instagram users apologized for misunderstanding. User @GunShotWounds, a former fan of the Ordinary who burned the Ordinary’s Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2% product on Instagram in a bin fire, told me via Instagram DM, “I was upset at being blocked by the CEO. It’s really not any sort of way to treat your customers. I was a fan of the Ordinary product range [because] it’s so well priced and it’s a novel approach to skin care. I will say that I do NOT believe that he is a racist. He is power-tripping asshole, that is all.” Some are still unsure of Truaxe’s behavior. User @Ms_Hannah_E who made an Instagram display of throwing away more than seven the Ordinary products wrote to me, “I think that it’s really disappointing to see a brand owner treating customers in this way, regardless of that comment’s intent. I hope Brandon is able to take a step back from social media because his behavior hurt a lot of people who supported him and his band, and I would buy again from the brand if he took a step back from it.”
As Truaxe once said, “skin care purchases are driven by communication with people.” He may have been referencing peer-to-peer recommendations, but Deciem’s past few weeks indicate that corporate communications can also influence purchasing. Have the controversies of the past few weeks driven or diverted Deciem purchases? Deciem spokespeople declined to provide a statement for this article. But Truaxe posted his own statement on the past few weeks on Instagram yesterday with a photo of a the Ordinary serum labeled “Reality” with the caption, “Big brands like to keep their social channels looking pristine. I will continue to do the opposite. Manicured reality isn’t reality at all.” If a brand is offering to take you out of the matrix, do you want to take the blue or the red pill?
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