With 'Mended Murals,' Vaseline Offers TLC To Urban Art

For people of color looking to soften their skin, few brands carry the historic clout of Vaseline. In its new “Mending Murals” effort, the storied skincare brand is bringing some TLC to fading murals in multiple cities, working with local artists to get them back to their original glory – and link communities to local skin health resources. Kevin Tolson, head of North America strategy and chief of staff for Unilever’s personal care division, tells Marketing Daily about Vaseline’s impact goals.

Marketing Daily: Vaseline got so much attention for the launch of in 2022, which invited people of color to upload images of skin problems to ease big disparities in dermatology. It came at such a good time, amid soaring awareness of racial health disparities and increased AI tech that made the database possible. Topping such a big hit isn’t easy. Was it hard to come up with “Mended Murals”?



Kevin Tolson: SeeMySkin is so successful because it was truly authentic. We worked on it three years before the launch, looking for ways to drive maximum impact. We were in the community, talking about skin health. So extending it this way, with “Mended Murals,” was easier. It’s not about being a campaign so much as driving impact. And we’ve always had this North Star vision that everyone deserves the right to healthy skin and to be able to live without limits. The “Mended Murals” evolution made sense.

Marketing Daily: What made SeeMySkin work was community participation, aggregating thousands of images of hundreds of skin conditions. People wanted to make a personal contribution to a community effort. How does that connect with “Mended Murals”?

Murals are beacons in communities, and they fade over time. That’s the nature of art. So our message is that just as skin can fade when you don’t take care of it, the same thing can happen to murals.

The murals are a depiction of the community. And because each includes a QR code that gives people access to local health resources, we’re creating this flywheel. And we’re donating $250,000 to support local health clinics that provide health care in each city where murals are restored. 

Marketing Daily: Murals are hyperlocal. I know you’ve made a short film about them. How else are people who don’t live near one of these restorations learning about the effort?

Tolson: We unveiled it at South by Southwest, letting people know their community could be next. We want people beyond Brooklyn, Hartford, Baltimore and Austin to say, "Hey, bring this to my community."

Marketing Daily: Thanks to lessening disparities in melanoma diagnoses, SeeMySkin is helping to save lives. Very few personal-care brands can say that. How are you leveraging that?

Tolson: We don’t go as far as saying we’re saving lives. Ultimately, we want more people to have access to dermatological care. We want to connect people to dermatologists, who do save lives. They can identify ailments sooner and make sure people get the care they deserve. We want to be a conduit for that care.

Marketing Daily:
What does Vaseline stand for?

Tolson: The positioning has been and continues to be around the healing power of Vaseline. That’s been the core element for well over 150 years now.

Marketing Daily: What’s your market share?

Tolson: I won't get into market share, but the business has been on a growth trajectory since 2019. We're one of the fastest-growing brands in Unilever’s beauty and well-being portfolio.

Marketing Daily: And your core audience?

Tolson: There's a demographic dynamic, and we very strongly over-index with the African American community. We’ve been a staple in those households for years. But we’ve got a vast portfolio and address different needs -- some folks seeking moisture, or anti-aging, or wellness. We’re meeting people where they are.

Marketing Daily: Slugging, when people slather on Vaseline before bedtime, has become a big TikTok thing!

Tolson: Trends are like pendulums -- they do swing back. So here’s this remedy that’s been around for years and is now new again. We want to keep driving forward and are excited that new people are discovering us.

Marketing Daily: Did you learn anything surprising from “Mended Murals”?

Tolson: Yes. It’s that you can never be sure of the impact that small things can have. I’m from Baltimore and had the opportunity to meet Ernest Shaw Jr., the artist behind the mural. Having him come back and represent some of the squeegee kids in the community today means that folks can see themselves in a positive light. In the grand scheme of things, it's a small act. But the impact is vast because now people are like, "That is me, at scale, being portrayed in a positive way."

So yes, there's the work for the brand and the impact of skincare and equity. But there's also something that can validate people very, very deeply. It’s a dual impact. It’s a side benefit you can't account for, but it's beautiful in a lot of ways.

The other lesson is that when you do things the right way, the next steps start to fall in line.

Marketing Daily: How will you decide if this effort is a success? Social shares? Brand awareness?

Tolson: We’re fortunate that the brand is already well known. But within nine months, our goal is for 15 million people of color to have access to skincare. Since the website went live last month, over 30,000 people have visited. And there have been 45,000 visits to the SeeMySkin website, a 320% increase.

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