Hello my dewy-skinned angel babies. Have I got some plump, and juicy skincare-adjacent drama for you!!
The Ordinary, an affordable skincare brand beloved by beauty Reddit and others, is undergoing a bit of a PR crisis. Their CEO, a man named Brandon Trauxe, has been acting quite strangely on social media, so much so that once-dedicated customers are literally setting their products on fire, willingly turning their backs on a pretty good source for a cheap vitamin C serum that is close to, if not as good as, the expensive shit.
Maybe your friend with the dewy cheekbones and the eye cream reccos has mentioned this drama to you, in bits and bobs via text or carrier pigeon or both. Maybe you’re setting out on your own skincare journey, ready to suit up and enter the skincare wars, dermis bared and ready to receive the juice. Or, maybe you love to see what radical transparency from a successful CEO really looks like. Regardless, I’m sure you’ve got questions. I have answers. Here we go.
A skincare brand that exists under the umbrella of Deciem, which also is home to other brands like NIOD and Hylamide—both of which make products that sound science-y, and are easy on the wallet. Their tagline is “The Abnormal Beauty Company”—something to remember as we embark upon this beautiful journey together.
Great, here’s what you need: a mysterious Instagram video from January 24 that is attempting to break down the barriers between consumer and CEO, throwing open the gates of the castle and showing you what it’s like to be a person who recently took up transcendental meditation and is deeply changed. It’s all in the name of transparency.
Earlier this year, the Ordinary posted an ad on Instagram that seemed to be taking a shot at Drunk Elephant, a skincare company that makes very expensive but also nice products, including this marula oil, for a cool $72 per 1 ounce bottle. “One would have to be drunk to overpay for Marula,” the ad read, which is a nice, friendly lil’ poke and nothing more. I don’t know why Drunk Elephant’s marula oil is almost $100 and The Ordinary’s is $9; essentially, they are the same thing. But as the saying goes, all’s fair in love, war, and advertisements between two companies that basically sell the same thing.
Eagle eyed users on “social media,” as the YouTube vloggers say, noticed. Then people from Reddit dug their little talons into the nascent drama, poking it like a ripe whitehead, until it exploded.
The Ordinary apologized in an Instagram post that is not like all the other Instagram posts from brands. It is quite long.
Buried within this rambling missive about elephants, travels in Indonesia, and why the company calls their employees “monkeys,” is an apology. “Hug, Brandon ❤️” indicates that Brandon Trauxe, the CEO, wrote this apology direct from the brand’s Instagram account.
Allure posits that the intent of this “dig” was to “start a beauty feud,” which is a patently insane thing to suggest because if we’re going to be real here, it’s literally just skincare. However, something ELSE seems to be afoot.
It seems that at some point after the Drunk Elephant fracas, Deciem’s CEO decided to take the wheel himself and really lean into whatever lifestyle a comment like “Hug, Brandon ❤️” would suggest.
Brandon’s not a “a CEO” because “Deciem has never needed a CEO.” He’s a “worker,” a beautiful socialist fantasy that goes great with moisturizer and serum foundation, if you ask me.
Brandon will now, apparently, work in London at the Covent Garden store to perhaps better embrace the whole “worker” vibe.
Here is one out of seven pictures of garbage, with a caption about how the Ordinary will stop using plastic, coupled with a personal note to Peter of Mong Packaging and Alan of Idealpak—both, if you ask me, best left for email and not Instagram. There’s also a request for a donkey emoji, which I second. Thanks.
Transparency for a CEO is so refreshing! I truly appreciate Brandon’s vibe and I would love to see more CEOs be real people and not corporate automatons who relish the pageantry of managem—
Please, I will stop you right there. Transparency in a CEO is refreshing only if that CEO is willing to listen to criticism and receive that criticism with grace, dignity, and maturity. Please advise.
In the name of transparency and much along the lines of being a “worker” and not a CEO, Truaxe hopped his butt into the comments to snipe at people expressing their displeasure with Truaxe’s behavior and the brand’s erratic social media presence. Unless this behavior is a troll or some sort of viral marketing campaign concocted by an ad agency in Hell, the reaction leads me to believe that Truaxe’s transparency is not the kind consumers desire.
Yup. You guessed it. Instagram user @supermormongirl (an account that is no longer active) inquired in the comments of that post,“Brandon, are you ok??” In response, Brandon wrote “@supermormongirl Yes but you don’t seem so well. Please use Modulating Glucosides when it’s out. Goodbye.”
Savvy skincare aficionados figured out that the user in question was a person of color and the unreleased product in question includes ascorbic glucoside, a chemical used in many skin lighteners. Not a great look for Brandon, and also, apparently, a misconception: “Modulating Glucosides will not contain ascorbyl glucoside. No ingredient information has been released for this product so it’s unclear where this confusion has come from,” the brand said in a statement to Teen Vogue. This is why once-loyal customers are now lighting their tubes on fire, according to The Cut.
Still, the damage has been done, despite this apology.
A brand is not a person; it is a collection of ideas and bullet points brainstormed by a group of people in a conference room, perhaps with a whiteboard, and gathered into a deck for presentation. A brand would love it very much if you thought they were a person, because it’s less depressing to buy something from a source with some personality. Much like Thinx, another buzzy startup with a spectacularly disastrous leader, Deciem is a plucky start-up, only five years old, coming out of the gate strong, but perhaps feeling the weight of its inexperience. Brash personalities and inappropriate behavior are written off in the start-up world as the signs of an entrepreneurial spirit, providing an incubator for behavior that is unprofessional and decidedly different from any public-facing interactions.
The Glassdoor reviews for Deciem are a mess, full of complaints about employee mistreatment and mercurial behavior, including verbal harassment and lots and lots of yelling—articulated...differently by co-CEO Nicola Kilner as “passion,” that ineffable natural enthusiasm valorized in startup culture that often stands in as a mask for inexperience. “The thing is, he’s so passionate,” she told Racked. “He yells when he’s happy...“Any time he’s raised his voice it’s because he’s so passionate, but usually it’s positive and he’s like, ‘Oh my god, look at this.’”
What makes companies like Thinx and Deciem different from other tech companies is their target audience: women feeling maybe a little vulnerable. Like periods, skincare is deeply personal. Success in a field full of brands falling over themselves to cater to women’s needs on a personal level means striking a perfect balance between confidant and capitalist tool. Glossier’s dewy imperfection and chirpy voice has nearly mastered this balance; in 2016 they secured $24 million in Series B funding and have used that money to expand their empire internationally. Founder Emily Weiss presents a persona that seems expertly calibrated to be approachable enough to compel women to spend money; never mind how good the products actually are, they’re just appealing enough to warrant a go. Success, it seems, is predicated on a brand’s ability to imitate a human well enough to convince women that they need whatever it is that they’re selling. Be open but never transparent; share what feels right but not what feels good.
Brands, never forget, are not your friends. A CEO is merely an unfortunate necessity until those Boston Dynamics robots that open doors are able to run a company. Buy Deciem if you want because their products are cheap and also good. Ignore them, if you desire, because their CEO is more concerned with being real and ignoring the valuable contract between a company and the consumer. Put your money where your values are, or don’t. We’ll all be dead soon enough.