Hair Salon Ad Ignites Social Media Outcry

By Justina Reichel
Justina Reichel
Justina Reichel
September 8, 2011 Updated: October 24, 2015

EDMONTON, Canada—A controversial ad at a hair salon in Edmonton, Alberta, went unnoticed for over a year, then suddenly an online firestorm erupted against the company that escalated into an international discussion about domestic abuse and accountability in advertising.

The ad features a fashionably dressed woman with a black eye sitting on a couch. Behind the couch stands a man, her apparent abuser, holding a diamond necklace—obviously a makeup gift. The ad reads: “Look good in all you do.”

Although the commentary evolved in the social media sphere, it soon translated into the real world. After the story was featured in major media across North America, the salon was vandalized.

Fluid Hair Salon was splashed with bright pink paint and a scrawled message referring to the ad that read, “That was violence wrongly named art.”

Other controversial ads in the “Look good in all you do” campaign feature a model unloading a murder victim from the back of a hearse in a forest, and a young fashionista portraying a homeless prostitute.

The ads were first denounced by a New York City copywriter and then spread like wildfire across the blogosphere, igniting passionate responses from the public and a heated discussion about accountability in advertising.

“This is not ‘igniting’ any kind of debate. It is simply glamorizing spousal abuse while overlooking the seriousness of the issue, all in the name of getting people in the door,” blogged Fiona Farrell, creative director at Donovan Creative Communications.

Fluid owner Sarah Cameron was shocked by the public response, but defended the ad as artistic expression. She said it was part of a series of six ads meant to showcase various causes in hopes of drumming up awareness and donations for them.

“We saw it as a great way to generate discussion and showcase power in hard situations,” she said in a media release. “If any survivors were upset on any level, I am professionally and personally sorry. With that being said it is our fault for not making our stance and purpose clearer.”

However, before the issue went viral, a comment posted below the image by Cameron referred to the woman in the ad as the “hottest battered woman I’ve ever laid my eyes upon,” inciting further public criticism about insensitivity around domestic abuse.

Many commentators point out that if the ad was purely meant to raise awareness for domestic abuse it would not be offensive, but since it was attached to a branding message that advertises the salon, it crossed the line and exploited human suffering for profit.

Healthy Controversy

Tiffany Jackson, creative consultant for the ad, released a letter in response to the outcry explaining her own experience of abuse as inspiration for the campaign.

“For four years of my teenage life, I lived in a home where I was verbally, emotionally, physically and sexually abused,” she wrote.

“I am finally in a place of healing and you know what healed me? TALKING about it. … I am excited that this has struck up a ‘controversy’ between Edmonton and people around the world! What power a simple image can have to ignite and connect us! It is unfortunate that it is usually subject matter that makes us sick and uncomfortable.”

Others saw the ad as cutting edge and artistic.

“They are doing it as a way to express themselves, mixed in with some fashion, mixed in with some art, mixed in with some social commentary,” wrote Edmonton blogger Lindsey Parkatti.

But Edmonton women’s groups are shocked by the ad, saying it trivializes and glamorizes domestic violence, and offered to give the ad creators free education and workshops on violence against women.

“Is using abusive imagery a privilege society now offers to witnesses of abuse? The experiences of the designer does not justify an image, created to sell salon services, that minimizes the impact of domestic violence by claiming, even satirically, that it’s not so bad if you have fabulous hair,” Lily Tsui, director of public education at the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton, wrote in an open letter to Fluid.

This isn’t the first time Fluid has found itself in hot water. Last year the company released an ad inspired by the BP oil spill featuring a scantily clad woman covered in crude oil, kneeling on the beach. When it was criticized in Marie Claire magazine, the salon donated its cut hair to make mats that would help mop up the spill.

This time Fluid has promised to make a donation to the Edmonton Women’s Shelter (WIN) any time a customer mentions the ad. WIN has spoken out against the ad and “the methods of advertising associated with it,” but say it will accept any donations from the salon.

Tsui also points out that verbally attacking the salon owner and vandalizing the salon is not an effective way to counter the issue of violence against women.

“I, for one, will be encouraging any nonabusive action such as boycotts or respectful letters and phone calls until Fluid salon issues a public apology and takes some direct action to compensate,” she said.

”The blog mentioned that anyone who goes into the salon and mentions this ad will have the proceeds from whatever services they book to go to the Edmonton’s Women’s Shelter, but isn’t that just another attempt to get clients in the door?”