Coppertone Jammed at Mainfest

From May 28th – 31st the Société de Développement du Boulevard Saint-Laurent (SDBSL) hosted a four day party known as the Mainfest. Despite bad weather reports, the sun shone radiantly throughout most of the festival. This was wonderful for local merchants, musicians, performers, and pedestrians who converged at the Mainfest to participate in a multitude of activities. This was also fantastic for the Schering-Plough Corporation because their brand Coppertone set up a promotional stand at the festival to distribute sunscreen and inform pedestrians about Coppertone products as part of a guerrilla marketing campaign. An entire weekend of rain would have put a damper on Coppertone’s sunscreen publicity.

Under the bright sun, Coppertone promoters gave pedestrians free samples of sunscreen while warning them about the problems caused by the sun’s ultra violet rays. They also invited people to have a free evaluation of their facial skin to test for existing sun damage. The test was administered by a man in a white laboratory coat in the shade beneath a Coppertone branded umbrella. He performed his test with a “diagnostic camera” which took one picture, developed it in two different ways laid out side by side. On the left, the picture appeared overexposed and hid any skin blemish and on the right, the picture was underexposed revealing every wrinkle and spot on one’s face. The diagnosis was performed by comparing the two pictures. The man pointed out skin abnormalities from the underexposed picture. If he found skin problems participants were told that they could prevent further harm by using Coppertone products. If he found no damage, people were told to use Coppertone to prevent future skin problems.

Coppertone Promotion

Instead of thanking Coppertone for caring so much about my well being, I approached the Coppertone display to ask some very important questions. Why was Coppertone so concerned about my skin? Do they truly care or is this another marketing ploy to brand the Coppertone name? Is their diagnosis real or is it a sales tactic? How qualified is the man giving the diagnosis? I know that sun exposure can cause skin damage, but can Coppertone really protect me? Does Coppertone contain any ingredients which cause skin damage? These questions induced a little panic in the Coppertone promotion team. I guess the presence of my camera man didn’t help. Though, I didn’t get to the bottom of all these questions, I did discover some awful truths about their campaign.

Since the promoters didn’t work for Coppertone it was hard to find out anything about their products. Coppertone paid actors and event organizers from New Ad, a marketing company who delivers young people to corporations, and a nurse from Quality Health Services LTD. The nurse alleged that he could not make any formal diagnoses because he was not a doctor. In fact, none of the promotional staff could not answer any questions about how the product worked, how it was made, what ingredients were in the sunscreen or if any ingredients used in the sunscreen were harmful.

Like the glare of the sun, light shed on the true intentions of Coppertone’s promotional spectacle. Coppertone’s campaign was not designed to help people but to scare them.  If someone is told that they may develop skin cancer because they are not well protected from the sun, they should be more likely to take advice from the street promoters and apply Coppertone sunscreen. Furthermore, if people are told they have skin problems from someone that resembles a doctor, they may be scared enough to use Coppertone more frequently so the ‘damage’ doesn’t escalate, especially if the Coppertone name is associated with cancer prevention. If Coppertone was really concerned about people’s skin, they would have hired real doctors to make real medical assessments instead of contracting a nurse from Quality Health Services LTD who can only provide an unprofessional opinion. He only told me he was a nurse and that he was not making an actual diagnosis after I inquired. Those who didn’t ask may have assumed he was a doctor giving valid evaluations, prescribing Coppertone to prevent skin cancer.

If Coppertone sunscreen really prevented skin cancer, my argument could be moot. Maybe a little scare for something healthy wouldn’t be so bad after all. These tactics are commonly used in anti-smoking and anti-drinking and driving commercials. The main problem is that Coppertone sunscreen does not do very well in research conducted by independent sources.

In 2008, the Environmental Working Group conducted an investigation of nearly 1 000 brand name sunscreens. This report concluded that none of Coppertone’s 41 sunscreens met the Environmental Working Group’s criteria for safety and effectiveness. Coppertone was accused of using dangerous ingredients including Oxybenzone, which is reported to be a possible cancer causing agent (for a comprehensive list of harmful ingredients used by Coppertone, follow this link).

The other sources of research on Coppertone products are conducted and/ or  sponsored by Coppertone themselves. The Coppertone Solar Research Center is responsible for testing Coppertone’s sunscreen for safety and effectiveness. This center was opened in 1971 and is described by Coppertone as the world’s largest state of the art facility for testing the quality of their sun-care products. In addition, the Coppertone Research Fund was established to provide financial support for dermatology research in Canada. Research on Coppertone sunscreen is mainly conducted by their research center through their charity fund, a blatant conflict of interest. In addition, they hire promoters, like those at the Mainfest, who cannot answer basic questions regarding the safety or effectiveness of their sunscreen.

Coppertone’s Mainfest masquerade came to an end when members of the Optative Theatrical Laboratories drew attention to the hypocrisy of associating Coppertone sunscreen to cancer prevention, especially by promoters who know nothing about the product. Since Coppertone paid actors to promote their sunscreen at the Mainfest, we intervened by sending in actors of our own. Because of the insincerity of their campaign, they were culture jammed. Here is what transpired:

One Response to “Coppertone Jammed at Mainfest”

  1. OTL Blog » Blog Archive » Reclaim the Main challenge Says:

    […] dubious promoter, to the billboard trucks that drive up the street all summer long, to the heavy corporate presence at street sales that are supposed to be for local merchants but instead are policed for the benefit of NewAd Media, […]

Leave a Reply