L’Oreal’s Black Opium perfume ad is ‘breathtakingly insensitive,’ says anti-drug group

A St. Louis-based anti-drug group has asked L’Oreal to pull Black Opium perfume from the shelves and stop marketing it using words like “addictive” during the country’s national opioid crisis.

“In the midst of the worst drug epidemic in the history of the United States, we at NCADA believe it is breathtakingly insensitive to sexualize and glorify opioids or their use,” Nichole Dawsey, executive director of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, said in an open letter to L’Oreal’s chairman posted on the group’s website Wednesday.

Black Opium is a fragrance by Yves Saint Laurent, which is owned by L’Oreal. A commercial for the perfume, launched in 2014, is airing in prime time. It stars actress and musician Zoe Kravitz, the Global Beauty Ambassador for YSL Beauty who was announced as the new “face” of Black Opium in July, according to InStyle magazine.

The new ad campaign starring Kravitz launched last month, InStyle reported. The TV commercial is set to a remix of the hit song “The Hills” by The Weeknd.

One Twitter user who saw the commercial last week tweeted: “Why is no one getting mad about a perfume called Black Opium with a commercial using a song about drug use and showing a partying nightlife? Is that not glamorizing drug use?”

The word “addictive” is used to describe the fragrance on websites such as Sephora that sell it.

“Black Opium is the highly addictive feminine fragrance from Yves Saint Laurent,” says the Sephora website. “Fascinating and seductively intoxicating, the opening notes of adrenaline-rich coffee and the sweet sensuality of vanilla recline into the softness of white flowers for a modern, young, and vibrant interpretation of addiction. Get your dose.”

“The tagline they’re using is addictive, magnetic, do you feel the call,” Jenny Armbruster, the NCADA’s deputy executive director, told Fox 2 in St. Louis. “They need to be paying attention to what’s happening to the people that they’re marketing to, and their consumers.”

More than 200,000 people in the United States died between 1999 and 2016 from overdosing on prescription opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Overdose deaths involving prescription opioids were five times higher in 2016 than in 1999,” the CDC says on its website.

Any product that “glamorizes or perpetuates stigma associated with substance use, particularly opioid use disorder, in this opioid epidemic, is offensive and is sending the wrong message to people that we’re working to prevent from using substances or that might be struggling with their own substance use,” Armbruster told Fox 2.

In her letter to L’Oreal chairman Jean Paul Agon, Dawsey wrote that “customers demand corporate responsibility from the brands they patronize.

“Instead of investing in a marketing campaign to promote an ill-conceived name, resources would be far better put to use in an effort to rebrand the fragrance. We ask that you pull the product from store shelves and immediately cease the current advertising and promotion of ‘addictive, magnetic’ opium.”

L’Oreal has been challenged before for its Black Opium advertising. In 2015, just one year after the perfume debuted, England’s Advertising Standards Authority, ASA, gave the ad campaign a seal of approval after it fielded similar complaints that the ads glamorized drugs.

Those ads featured the perfume’s former “face,” model Edie Campbell, “running through streets searching for the bottle of perfume that has been taken from her,” reported ITV.

“The final sequence shows her recovering the bottle from a man and spraying her neck with it before slumping back against a wall.”

The ASA received 11 complaints that the ads were not suitable for children because Campbell appeared to be simulating drug use, ITV reported.

L’Oreal denied the campaign had anything to do with drug use, and the advertising standards group agreed, saying in a statement “we considered there were no explicit references to drug use in the ads” and did not “glamorize or trivialize drug use or addiction.”

The St. Louis group has not received a response from the company, according to Fox 2.