Case Study

Tarte Cosmetics: Shape Tape Foundation

Studied Through Consumer Relations

and Crisis Communication Lens­­­­es

Key Questions

1. How have beauty companies adapted to become more inclusive?

2. How did influencers affect the release of the Shape Tape Foundation?

3. How did Tarte Cosmetics use crisis communications and consumer relations throughout this time?

4. Why were consumers upset by the photos of the Shape Tape Foundation line?


With a rising number of women identifying as multi-racial, beauty brands are under increasing pressure to expand the definition of beauty. According to Pew Research, one-in-seven infants born in the U.S. were multiracial in 2015, triple that of 1980 (Livingston, 2017). In western culture, the idea of beauty has historically reflected thin, Caucasian women. In a study analyzing the construct of beauty, scholars stated that “Caucasian models will be used more often across cultures than models of other ethnic groups in women’s beauty and fashion magazine advertising.” (Frith, Shaw, & Cheng, 2005). This lack of recognition of women of color has harmed several beauty companies throughout the years as African American women spend “$7.5 billion on beauty products every year, spending 80% more on cosmetics and twice as much on skincare as other consumers” (Segran, 2015). Evidently, minorities are a large percentage of the consumer base for the beauty industry, which compels more beauty companies to become more inclusive. In January 2018, Tarte Cosmetics released a foundation line that was not representative of the company’s consumers. Directly following the release of a photo of the line, Tarte faced scrutiny from influencers and consumers as it was interpreted being insensitive towards women of color. This case presents Tarte Cosmetics’ response to the controversy through consumer relations and crisis communication lenses.


Tarte Cosmetics

Tarte Cosmetics is a popular beauty brand that was started in 1999 by Maureen Kelly and is known for their cruelty-free practices and “high-performance naturals” – products that are created with “a blend of naturally-derived & other ingredients designed to perform” (Tarte Cosmetics). In 2014, Kosé, a company based in Japan, purchased Tarte Cosmetics. Most of the popular beauty brands are owned by either Estee Lauder or L’Oreal which may have contributed to Tarte’s controversy as those companies are more familiar with responding during a crisis in a way that would not create lasting effects on their brand. Additionally, the companies have greater resources in learning and addressing being inclusive to all potential consumers.

In 2016, the company released its Double Duty Shape Tape Contour Concealer which has since become one of the best-selling concealers in the world with one selling every 20 seconds (Tarte Cosmetics). To build upon the success of the Shape Tape Concealer, Tarte teased the release of a new foundation line in 2018. Beauty fans around the world were excited to see that one of the top selling concealers would be now replicated as a foundation. As excitement grew, the expectations grew with it.

Inclusion in Beauty

In 2017, Fenty Beauty by Rihanna shook the beauty community and, ultimately, created new standards for make-up companies when it released 40 foundation shades as a new company. While many companies had full foundation lines prior to this release, these companies typically released between 15 and 20 shades initially and added on more shades over time. With Rihanna’s brand recognizing all shades upon entering the beauty world, 40 shades became the expectations of all beauty brands going forward. A year following Fenty’s release, Make-up Art Cosmetics (M.A.C.) expanded its Studio Fix Fluid SPF 15 foundation line to 60 shades. Additionally, M.A.C. expanded its concealer to 33 shades and the Studio Fix Powder Plus foundation to 53 shades. To make it easier for consumers to find their shade, M.A.C. created the Shade Finder which provides over a hundred photos of people wearing the different shades. The photos are of both males and females of all ages and ethnicities. M.A.C.’s expansion shows the influence that Fenty’s release had on the beauty community and how developing an inclusive brand can help businesses reach a greater audience.

Best Practices

Consumer relations involves “supporting marketing communication efforts to build consumer demand for products and services” and “maintaining mutually beneficial and lasting relationships between the organization and consumer” (Swann, 2014, p. 277). The purpose of consumer relations is to look out for any future issues that may create a possibility for the deterioration of the relationship between the company and the consumers. Additionally, crisis communication is defined by the Institute for Public Relations as “a process designed to prevent or lessen the damage a crisis can inflict on an organization and its stakeholders” (Institute for PR, 2007). Crisis communication plays a role in the rebuilding of companies following scrutiny. If done correctly, companies will be able to come back from a controversy without sustaining lasting impacts to its reputation.

Main Narrative


In early January, 2018, Tarte teased the release of a new foundation on Twitter exclusively at Ulta Beauty and www.tartecosmetics.com to build off of the cult-favorite concealer with a photo of the packaging in its facilities. The company’s Twitter followers instantly responded excited for the new foundation. A little less than a week later, on January 12, 2018 Tarte shared a photo of the shades that would be released in the two formulas – hydrating and matte. These shades were porcelain, fair beige, fair-light neutral, light neutral, light sand, light-medium beige, light-medium honey, light-medium sand, medium honey, medium sand, medium neutral, medium-tan honey, tan sand, deep honey, and mahogany. Immediately, there was a negative response to the shade range as most of the shades were made for those of lighter skin tones and only three shades for those of darker skin tones. One user Tweeted, “after @rihanna SLAYED the game in 2017 for her Fenty Beauty LAUNCH; @tartecosmetics needs to understand even though something is in high demand, if everyone (of color or not) can’t try it out together, you shouldn’t release it. Be inclusive” (@kaylabeautyxoxo). Another user said, “everyone needs to speak out against the blatant lack of inclusivity in the cosmetic industries, not just people of color. How can Rihanna put out 40 different, diverse foundation shades on her first try when Tarte has been a brand for years and still can’t seem to include everyone” (@_breannalovely).

Release and Reactions         

On January 15th, the foundation was made available on Tarte Cosmetics’ website with Ulta Beauty planning to release the foundation on January 21st. A day later, Tarte announced that it was planning to add five more colors to each of the formulas to inform an unhappy audience of the plans that were already in the works. The same day, Jackie Aina, a popular beauty YouTuber, responded in collaboration with YouTuber, Alissa Ashley, to Tarte’s shade range with her video, Black Girls React to Tarte Shape Tape Foundation which has since received over 4.5 million views.

Tarte Makes a Statement

In an attempt to mend the relationship between Tarte and its consumers, on January 17th, Tarte Cosmetics posted a response to the controversy through its Instagram story stating:

You all know by now that we revealed our much anticipated shape tape foundation . . . & the final shade range that we launched was definitely not a full representation of all of you. It may be too little too late, but we can assure you this was not meant in any kind of malicious way. We all just got caught up in #shapetapenation and seeing your tweets asking for it . . . We wanted to get the product out as fast as possible, and we made the decision to move forward before all the shades were ready to go. We know there is no excuse & we take full responsibility for launching this way. We lost sight of what’s really important in this industry, & for those who feel alienated in our community, we want to personally apologize. We’re doing everything in our power to bring those unfinished shades as fast as we can, at any cost. WE CAN AND WILL DO BETTER.(Barbour, 2018).

To add to its statement, in an exclusive relationship, Tarte told POPSUGAR, an online lifestyle publisher, that the five new shades were already being created and that new shades are added depending on the season “because your complexion tends to be paler in the Winter and darker in the Summer months.”

Influencers React

Later that same day, Shayla Mitchell released her YouTube video testing the foundation, NEW Tarte Shape Tape Foundation Review & Demo: Is it Inclusive, which has received over 445 thousand views. Shayla criticized Tarte Cosmetic’s response stating “my skin tone isn’t seasonal; this is my skin tone all year round” (@makeupshayla). The next day, Jeffree Star, a beauty YouTuber and owner of Jeffree Star Cosmetics, released his review criticizing the foundation which has since received over 4.7 million views. He commented that “if a brand does not have a big shade range, why bother?… Why is the product even being put out?” (@jeffreestar). On January 19, YouTuber, James Charles, released his review – 4.9 million views since its release – criticizing the foundation, saying the shade range is the “biggest jump I’ve ever seen in a foundation range” and that “women of color equate for 80% of the money in the beauty industry and are still overlooked” (@jamescharles).


On January 19th, Tarte was accused of repackaging an old product, the Tarte Hybrid Gel and reintroducing it as the Tarte Shape Tape Foundation after Twitter users noticed the company used the same exact ingredients in both of the products. One user said, “@tartecosmetics I don’t get it! Please tell me that someone made a copy past of the ingredients and is not really empowered hybrid gel foundation in other container! #ShapeTapeFoundation” (@lunacy_sweet). To which Tarte responded, “The ingredients are the same. However, we used our most hydrating formula as a base but mixed, filled & cured it through the proprietary manufacturing method we created for our shape tape concealer. It’s this process that gives it a different texture, application & finish” (@tartecosmetics).

Ulta Beauty Reacts

On January 21st Ulta Beauty announced that it would be pushing the original release date of Tarte’s Shape Tape Foundation which was supposed to be released on January 21st to an unknown date. Two days later, Ulta Beauty tweeted,“As hard as it is to make some of our Guests wait, we wanted to allow time for Tarte to add more shades to the lineup before we launch online. Thanks so much for your patience” (@ultabeauty). On February 4, Ulta Beauty released Tarte Shape Tape Foundation in stores and online.

Tarte Takes Action

After a few months of selling the Shape Tape Foundation with the additional shades, on May 30th Tarte announced that it would be expanding the Amazonian Clay Full Coverage Foundation from its original 25 shades to 40 shades. With this new expansion, Tarte stopped promoting the Shape Tape Foundation on its social media and instead promoted the Amazonian Clay Foundation in its place. Later in the year, in September, Tarte reduced the price of the Shape Tape Foundation at Ulta from $39 to $23. Then in December, Tarte reduced the price again to $19. On January 12, 2019, Tarte created the first ever International Tarte Shape Tape Day which was celebrated with giveaways and posts celebrating influencers and the company’s employees.


Shortly after, on February 5, Tarte announced that it would be relaunching the Tarte Shape Tape Foundation under the name “Face Tape Foundation” with 50 shades and five undertones. The next day Alissa Ashley released her video reviewing the new Face Tape Foundation PR package Tarte sent to her stating it’s “definitely a major improvement” and the video received 802 thousand views.

About a week later, Tarte released the updated foundation online and in Ulta stores with the slogan, “You asked. We Listened.” The updated foundation switched up the ingredients to include hyaluronic acid and changed the wand to a pump. Tarte still offers the original Shape Tape Foundation on www.tartecosmetics.com.

Future Actions

Since the controversy began in 2018, Tarte Cosmetics has relaunched the Shape Tape Foundation as the “Face Tape Foundation” and boasted its efforts to listen to its consumers using the phrase “You asked. We listened.” This slogan can be seen in Ulta Beauty stores selling the foundation across the nation. The new Face Tape Foundation has 50 shades which is a significant increase from the original 15 shades in the Shape Tape Foundation line. The company has also increased its shade range for the Tarte Shape Tape Concealer from 13 shades to 30 shades. Additionally, Tarte increased the shade range for the Amazonian Clay Full Coverage Foundation from 25 shades to 40 shades. Since adding to the shade range for the Amazonian Clay Foundation, Tarte had also released the Babassu Foundcealer in 30 shades which included a more balanced shade range compared to the Shape Tape Foundation. Lastly, in an effort to become more cost friendly, Tarte Cosmetics developed their sister brand, Sugar Rush. The brand includes both make-up and skincare.


Overall, Tarte Cosmetics did not think about consumer relations very well as the whole purpose is to maintain “mutually beneficial and lasting relationships between the organization and consumer” (Swann, 2014). There was a lack of consideration for the company’s potential consumers who were people of color. In terms of the crisis communications efforts that were made, the statements did not “lessen the damage” in fact some of the statements made the controversy worse and created more of a strain between the company and the stakeholders (Institute for PR, 2007). Once the company started expanding the other foundation line and decreasing the price of the Shape Tape Foundation, it was finally attempting to fix the relationship in a better way than the prior attempts.


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  2. Aina, J. (2018, January 16). Black Girls React to Tarte Shape Tape Foundation | Jackie Aina. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=17&v=4cXsgT3ZcL8
  3. Ashley, A. (2018, January 16). NEW Tarte Shape Tape Foundation..Are They Serious? Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNs7fkbANM8&feature=youtu.be&a=
  4. Barbour, S. (2018, January 22). Tarte Apologizes For Their Limited Foundation Shade Range. Retrieved from https://www.cosmopolitan.com/style-beauty/a15583788/tarte-cosmetics-shape-tape-foundation-shades-apology/
  5. Barbour, S. (2018, September 07). M.A.C. Cosmetics Expanded Their Studio Fix Shade Range and It’s Inclusive AF. Retrieved from https://www.cosmopolitan.com/style-beauty/beauty/a23025305/mac-foundation-diverse-shade-range-studio-fix/
  6. Borovic, K. (2018, December 17). Tarte’s Famous Shape Tape Concealer Now Comes In 30 Shades. Retrieved from https://www.bustle.com/p/tartes-shape-tape-concealer-shade-range-now-includes-30-different-hues-10083778
  7. Cosmetics, T. (2018, October 01). Tarte cosmetics launches its first-ever #kissandmakeup school tour in support of October’s National Bullying Prevention Month. Retrieved from https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/tarte-cosmetics-launches-its-first-ever-kissandmakeup-school-tour-in-support-of-octobers-national-bullying-prevention-month-300721970.html
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  10. Frith, K., Shaw, P., & Cheng, H. (2006, January 10). The Construction of Beauty: A Cross‐Cultural Analysis of Women’s Magazine Advertising. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1460-2466.2005.tb02658.x
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  12. Kosé USA. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://kose-usa.com/our-brands/tarte-detail/
  13. Leiva, C. (n.d.). Tarte blessed us with two different Shape Tape foundations that work for people with dry and oily skin. Retrieved from https://hellogiggles.com/beauty/makeup/face/tarte-released-matte-and-hydration-shape-tape-foundations/
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  16. Marsh, A. (2018, December 17). Tarte Is Launching A New Shape Tape Foundation, But Here’s Why The Internet Isn’t Happy. Retrieved from https://www.elitedaily.com/p/tartes-shape-tape-foundation-shades-are-being-expanded-but-people-are-still-upset-7941272
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Case Analysis

“Lean Finely Textured Beef” or “Pink Slime” Consumers Ask: “What is this Stuff?”

A Critical Analysis of the Conflict Management Life Cycle


Throughout the early 2000s, consumers grew increasingly eager to learn more about what goes into their food after several outbreaks of E. coli. With more information about the meat producing process becoming readily available to the public, media coverage grew exponentially. The book, Fast Food Nation (2001), the documentary, Food Inc. (2008), and The New York Times article, “The Burger that Shattered Her Life” all portrayed the negative aspects of the food industry. The Times article followed an investigation into the Beef Products, Inc. (BPI) ingredients after one consumer almost died due to E. coli found in their meat. Directly following the article, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) made it so that BPI could not bypass any future routine tests. The main issue found with the meat industry was the “lean finely textured beef” (LFTB) of which BPI produced 500 million pounds. LFTB is meat that has been processed with ammonium hydroxide, “a food additive already approved by federal regulators for use in processing cheese, chocolate and soda. It also exists naturally in beef,” according to The Washington Post (Shin, 2008). BPI used ammonium hydroxide in order to get rid of any risk of E. coli, however, LFTB was deemed with the name “pink slime” by media outlets leading global audiences to question BPI’s intentions. With BPI under fire, the company had to figure out how to react to all the negative backlash. BPI’s actions will be analyzed using the conflict management life cycle from the proactive phase to the recovery phase.


Around 2007, BPI was one of the largest beef producers in the nation and could be found across the nation in McDonald’s, Burger King, schools, and grocery stores. Also around this time, the company began to use ammonia hydroxide in its meat to prevent E. Coli outbreaks reaching its peak production of LFTB in 2009. According to the American Meat Institute (AMI), LFTB is “a category of beef products that uses high-technology food processing equipment to separate lean meat from fat… LFTB products prevent the waste of valuable, lean, nutritious, safe, beef by using technology to do what hands cannot.” While the AMI definition makes LFTB seem like a safe form of beef, in 2009, the media developed a different story which put LFTB in a negative light portraying it as “low quality” and “pink slime” (Swann, 2014, p. 164).

With media attention growing surrounding LFTB, public figures also began speaking out against the production of LFTB. Some of these public figures include Jamie Oliver and Diane Sawyer. On April 12, 2011, Jamie Oliver created a vivid image of how the LFTB meat was treated on his show, “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution”. “He placed meat trimmings into a consumer dryer to heat the meat fat and separate the meat from the fat then pulled out a jug of ammonia labeled with a skull and cross bones” (Swann, 2014, p. 165). This was the first instance in which LFTB had been called into question by an influential figure. Nearly a year later, on March 7, 2012, Diane Sawyer introduced the name “pink slime” when discussing LFTB to the United States on ABC News. Directly following the newscast, many of the primary buyers of LFTB stopped purchasing the meat and schools were given the option whether to continue usage of LFTB in their meals or not.

Additionally, BPI faced scrutiny from Congresswoman Chellie Pingree who argued for LFTB to be banned from all school lunches and created the REAL Beef Act. At this point “88 percent of Americans were aware of the ‘pink slime’ issue and 76 percent say they were ‘at least somewhat concerned” (Swann, 2014, p.169). As the scrutiny became a growing issue, BPI addressed the media’s concerns and later filed a defamation lawsuit against ABC.

Analysis and Recommendations

The Proactive Phase

According to Cases in Public Relations Management: The Risk of Social Media and Activism author, Patricia Swann, the first step in the conflict management life cycle is the proactive phase which includes “environmental scanning, issues tracking, issues management, and the crisis plan” (Swann, 2014, p.154). Environmental scanning is used to help an organization adjust for the future based on trends (Marcus, n.d.). Issues tracking observes those trends with greater attention. Issues management is when the organization adapts its actions to prevent conflict. A crisis plan is a preparation for crises when the trend shows a negative outcome.

As consumers became more interested in learning more about food production, BPI’s risk of being investigated and criticized increased dramatically. BPI had faced many encounters with E. coli and salmonella in its meat between 2006 and 2009 with two of the encounters affecting over 50,000 pounds of meat. Also during this time, Food, Inc. was released in 2008 criticizing the food production industry. A few years following these incidents, Jamie Oliver released his criticism of LFTB in 2011. Not only did BPI fail to address Oliver’s critique, but it is also evident that the company did not adapt its practices in order to prevent crises or develop a crisis plan. Overall, BPI’s proactive phase was lacking and largely led to the controversy. If BPI had acted proactively through environmental scanning, it may have been able to respond to Jamie Oliver and adjusted its practices to further prevent the 2012 controversy. Alternatively, BPI could have invited external researchers to run an investigation proving LFTB’s safety making research readily available in future crises.

The Strategic Phase

Swann defines the strategic phase as “risk communication and conflict positioning while adapting the crisis plan” (Swann, 2014, p.154). Risk communication is defined as “an effective risk communication program raises awareness and behavioral intent, but also helps prevent the risk from occurring” (Paine, 2018). Conflict positioning is when a company commits a certain action in order to appear more favorably in the publics’ eyes. An example of conflict positioning is when fast food restaurants and grocery stores decided to stop selling LFTB meat from BPI in order to prevent an investigation into their own companies.

In order to have done well in the strategic phase, it was imperative that BPI stay ahead during the proactive phase, but because it did not do as well in the proactive phase, BPI suffered during the strategic phase. The company did not attempt to position themselves favorably in any way. BPI continued business as usual until it was called out by ABC News where it then had to begin communicating with the media as soon as possible. 

To improve in the strategic phase, BPI could have given out more information earlier about what LFTB is on its website alongside the benefits, frequently asked questions, how it’s made, and why BPI treats LFTB with ammonia hydroxide. Additionally, the company could have conducted focus groups and asked what they are most concerned about when it comes to LFTB and why. With this information, BPI could have planned ways to inform the public about LFTB practices without drawing negative attention.

The Reactive Phase

Cases in Public Relations Management goes on to state that the reactive phase of the conflict management life cycle is “crisis communication, conflict resolution, and litigation public relations” (Swann, 2014, p.154). During crisis communication is when companies must implement their crisis plan. Conflict resolution is used to help fix the issue at hand and litigation public relations is when a company takes legal action.

The first instance the company should have been responded to was Jamie Oliver’s show, but BPI did not address Oliver’s attempt to discredit the use of ammonium hydroxide in any way thereby allowing him to solely control the message about LFTB. When the ABC News story broke, BPI responded a day later on March 8, 2012, however, the statement lacked research to back up their assertions. This prompted BPI to create the website, www.beefisbeef.com where the company could provide more information and edit the site to reflect any changes in the controversy. The website proved to be effective as BPI “expanded its news release with statements supporting LFTB from prominent government leaders, academics, food safety experts, and consumer groups” (Swann, 2014, 175). Later on March 23, 2012, BPI’s owner, Eldon Roth, released a second statement which was also published in The Wall Street Journal. The statement called out the effect the ABC News story had on the company noting that over 3,000 jobs had been lost. Another effective message in the statement was Nancy Donley’s opinion piece. Donley became the founder and president of STOP Foodborne Illness after her own child died from E. Coli. This may have shown readers that if Donley supported LFTB, that there must be valid evidence that it is not as bad for them as they believe.  

Later on March 26, 2012, BPI invited several reporters, governors, lieutenant governors, and government officials to tour the Nebraska facility. At this event, the visitors received a handout on how LFTB is produced and the nutritional value associated with it. This was a strong move on BPI’s part in that it proved that BPI was willing to show everyone what truly goes on behind the facility’s doors. It allowed people to feel comfortable knowing that BPI was being transparent with its publics.

The Recovery Phase

As far as the recovery phase, Swann defines it as “reputation management and image restoration strategies” (Swann, 2014, 154). The recovery phase acts to repair the company’s image for the future. In May 2012, BPI sued ABC News for “defamation and product disparagement” (Rothberg, 2017). In doing so, it proved to the public that what ABC News did, twisted the information about it BPI. It showed that BPI was willing to fight to prove that ABC News provided false claims. ABC and BPI ended up settling in 2017 for $177 million. Since then the USDA has allowed for LFTB to be called “ground beef” which according to BPI’s vice president of sales and marketing, “opens up new doors for [BPI]” (Breen, 2019).


Breen, M. (2019). USDA officially reclassifies BPI’s lean finely textured beef as “ground beef”. Retrieved from https://ktiv.com/2019/02/12/usda-officially-reclassifies-bpis-lean-finely-textured-beef-as-ground-beef/

Marcus, M. (n.d.). Environmental Scanning. Retrieved from https://www.tesu.edu/about/ir/environmental-scanning

Paine, K. (2018). The Difference between Crisis Communications and Risk Communications: One protects the brand, the other protects people – Paine Publishing. Retrieved from http://painepublishing.com/7687-2/#

Questions and Answers About Lean Finely Textured Beef. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.meatinstitute.org/index.php?ht=a/GetDocumentAction/i/76184%20

Rothberg, J. (2017, August 09). Prime Time For Pink Slime: BPI’s Defamation Case Against ABC Heads To Trial. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/legalentertainment/2017/06/02/prime-time-for-pink-slime-bpis-defamation-case-against-abc-heads-to-trial/#267268f59902

Shin, A. (2019). Engineering a Safer Burger. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/11/AR2008061103656.html

Swann, P. (2014). Cases in Public Relations Management: The Rise of Social Media and Activism. (2nd Edition, Vol. 2). Taylor and Francis Group

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