In a testament to the undying power of the Internet meme, cosmetics brand CoverGirl has been forced to issue a statement about its sponsorship of the NFL — all thanks to the brutal Photoshop skills of somebody on Twitter.
CoverGirl, the “official beauty sponsor of the NFL,” has been breathlessly hyping an ad campaign around team colors, including those of the Baltimore Ravens. But last weekend, as the fallout from national football’s domestic violence scandal continued, the American Prospect’s Adele Stan edited the image to give the model a black eye … and to insist that CoverGirl pull its support for the NFL until embattled Commissioner Roger Goodell resigns. Her image and others like it have since been retweeted thousands of times.
As of Tuesday, CoverGirl has suspended neither the campaign nor the Ravens’ ad. But the company did quietly remove the ad from its Pinterest page, and its NFL Collection page went down briefly Monday. On Facebook, the company insisted that it “believes domestic violence is completely unacceptable.”
“We developed our NFL program to celebrate the more than 80 million female football fans,” the statement continues. “In light of recent events, we have encouraged the NFL to take swift action on their path forward to address the issue of domestic violence.”
But that tepid stand has — perhaps unsurprisingly — done little to reassure CoverGirl’s critics. The top responses to the company’s Facebook post, as of this writing, called for the company to drop its NFL sponsorship. (“Put your money where your mouth is, CoverGirl,” one user wrote.)
This type of “hashtag activism,” as it’s known, frequently gets a bad rap. In May, the writer Teju Cole slammed #bringbackourgirls, a viral hashtag pegged to the disappearance of 250 Nigerian students, as “a wave of global sentimentality” that “solves nothing.” To some extent, of course, he’s right: The girls are still missing, just as African warlord Joseph Kony has not been captured (#Kony2012) and Trayvon Martin’s killer never went to jail (#JusticeforTrayvon).
But while hashtag activism can’t always grapple with these big issues of war or policy or crime, it has proved a pretty effective tool in manipulating companies. After all, NFL sponsors have a vested interest in maintaining their image, lest the bad press affect their bottom lines.
On Monday night, hotel chain Radisson dropped its sponsorship deal with the Minnesota Vikings over allegations that the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson beat his 4-year-old son. And CBS, the network that pulled Rihanna’s “Run This Town” from its “Thursday Night Football” intro because of the singer’s well-publicized personal history with domestic violence, also changed course when Twitter users protested.
“For brands like CoverGirl … whether Goodell keeps his job or not isn’t the question,” explained the marketing news outlet MediaPost. “It’s whether it can keep customers.”
Judging by the social media buzz, at least, that prospect doesn’t look pretty.