If you were born with it that would be just weird. Everything you need to answer a question, for Paper 1, on “That Boss Life”. AQA Media studies. Maybelline advert CSP.

No time for arsing around. There’s more than enough to explain.

Sometimes the board chooses a CSP that is closer to the zeitgeist than others (cough, The Voice, cough).

This is one of the better ones. I mean it should have been James Charles and his Covergirl contract.


Cos then this (at 2.00) would make sense.

If you want to really enjoy the squirmy sensation you get when journalists have to explain the internet to old folk then watch the whole thing.

But Manny got the Maybelline gig, and Maybelline’s bigger than Covergirl so AQA went Manny.

And wonder about why the board doesn’t mention Makeupshayla at all later (cough, racist, cough, sexist, cough).

I really need to get that cough checked out. Could be serious.

This is what the board says:

Product: Advertising and Marketing – Maybelline ‘That Boss Life part 1’ Manny Guitterez (online ad)

This is a targeted CSP and needs to be studied with reference to two elements of the Theoretical Framework (Media Language and Media Representation) and all relevant contexts.

Selection Criteria

Advertising and Marketing – The Maybelline advertisement possesses cultural, social and historical significance and provides rich and challenging opportunities for interpretation and in depth critical analysis.

And here’s the ad.


  1. If that room was really “everything” (0.08) surely you’d have more space than in a Premier Inn. Just sayin’.
  2. WTF are all the pictures blank white (0.11)?
  3. I kinda forgot that the bellboy bought in all those off-white suitcases ‘cos I just focused on the gold n’ glittery one. So I thought they seriously under-packed for the trip. Not a question. Just an observation.
  4. Is that a Pulp Fiction case glow at 0.18?
  5. 0.19. How many eyelashes do they have? Or rather ‘cos I forgot about the other cases I wondered if someone had, instead of packing 300 items, packed one item 300 times and now was looking at a tricky city-break situation.
  6. 0.24. Someone doesn’t know how hinges work. Did they not think to practice this? They nearly got an embarrassing reversal into the face situation.

Questions over lets get to:

Media Language.

Detailed study of the Maybelline ‘That Boss life’ should enable students to develop an understanding of how conventions of advertising are socially and historically relative, dynamic and can be used in a hybrid way.
Analysis should include:
• Mise-en-scene analysis
• Cinematography and Aesthetics
• How developing technologies affect media language
• Intertextuality and hybridity
• Semiotics: how images signify cultural meanings
• How advertising conventions are socially and historically relative
• The significance of challenging or subverting advertising conventions
• The way in which media language incorporates viewpoints and ideologies

Before we plunge into the ad lets enjoy some old ads and notes (this will also help with context later too).

This is an early 80s ad for Maybelline. Who’s ready to be a little bit sick into their mouth?

Look at the advert and consider the following:

  • Body: Age, Gender, Race, Hair, Body type, Facial type,
  • Manner: Expression, Pose
  • Activity: Touch, Movement
  • Props and setting: Items within the image and their use, Setting


In semiotic terms, What signs  can you spot?

  • Youth – desirable and linked to dominant ideology of beauty standards
  • White, heterosexual and cis-female – dominant ideology of femininity
  • Make up, hair and nails – heavy make up, blow dry and manicure – made to look natural but actually very superficial and high maintenance. Beauty is “effortless” on the surface but actually requires multiple products
  • Surrounded by images of men – heteronormative view of desirability
  • Signs of wealth – décor, jewellery, gold photo frames
  • Romantic gifts – flowers, chocolates, jewellery

Now that we’ve identified the signs what do they signify?

What ideologies are being promoted?

What promises are being made about the product?

What is the audience being encouraged to aspire to?

  • Heteronormativity – Promotes heterosexual romance as the “normal” standard to aspire to – “everyone wants a boyfriend!”
  • Traditional (American) gender roles – men pictured with footballs, athletic wear and preppy knotted sweaters – symbols of traditional, middle-class (white collar) masculinity.
  • Consumerism – material products are a sign of success and will provide happiness and security.
  • Capitalism – wealth is a sign of success

O.K. Now freak yourself out a bit with this 50s advert.

Notice that the ad shows you how to apply the product.

Now look at this ad from the 90s with Buffy in it.

It’s not so different. Underneath the glossiness there’s the same basic structure going on. Unhappy with your life? Here’s a product. Here’s how to use it. Now your life is better.

Same structure in your CSP too. 60 years old and still serving the same purpose.

Back to the ad.

  • Mise-en-scene analysis

White has been the colour of glamour since forever. It’s expensive to make things white and it’s expensive to keep things white. This became such a staple of early cinema that Italian 30s pics, that copied Hollywood, were called cinema del telefono bianco (white telephone films) because white telephones featured so heavily and were code for style and wealth. So the room has to be white.

More importantly the room is all about the view. Which is ironic because Manny and Shayla keep on looking into the room, not out of it. The room shows the audience that the hotel is in New York (the home of Maybelline). New York is code here for metropolitan excitement and attitudes. The advert is not aimed at New Yorkers. It is aimed at all those people who would love to escape Dullsville and make it to America’s capital of fashion.

Gold. Glitter. Wealth. (Yawn – so obvs). But you should be able to write about how VFX have been added post “transformation” to accentuate the new gold and glitter in the room and to glam-up the people.

  • Cinematography and Aesthetics

Took me a while to get my head round this one because this advert looks so low rent. Compare it to those 90s ads which were all big budget and screamed “we have money”, this looks like it was shot on someone’s weekend city-break.

Then I realised that it was deliberate. These people are YouTubers so their advert, which is being consumed online, looks like a YouTuber’s video. It fits the YouTube aesthetic, which is a bit D.I.Y.

In terms of cinematography notice that the camera is always moving, but always smooth. This is part of the language of advertising. It is a simple way make it feel more alive and vibrant.

  • How developing technologies affect media language

This is the YouTube thing I mentioned. Youtube allowed people to make little films about their weekend away. And make-up tutorials. This advert has absorbed the language of these videos. The video is also twice as long as the normal T.V. ad slot so there is more room to make meaning.

  • Intertextuality and hybridity

The advert kinda makes no sense unless you know who Manny and Shyla are. Also we need to take a moment to recannize that (as the ITV news clip showed) MUA stars are biiiiiig. They are filling a vacuum left by the collapse of music stardom. I mean the BBC just had a whole series, Glow Up: Britain’s Next Make-Up Star, in which they did a reality game-show based on the stardom of being a make-up artist. YouTube has allowed what was once a back-room technician role to become the main event. This is new.

It piggy-backs on earlier cultural moments (glam-rock, new-romantics and drag culture) – if you haven’t already watch all of Pose on the BBC. Now. I’ll wait.

Done? All 8 episodes? Good wasn’t it. Right up there this year with Derry Girls and Russian Doll.

Look, in intertextual terms you have to have cultural capital (know some shit). New York is the city of Lou Reed singing Walk on the Wild Side, of the Stonewall riots and the gay bars of Christopher Street. It’s exactly the kind of place where a gay kid from a Mormon family (Manny) would get to feel at home (other than L.A. – where he lives – or San Fransisco).

Another intertextual moment is the way the music goes into its drop at the same time the mascara is applied. The make-up is a drug and this is the moment that it hits. There is a linkage between dance music culture (in the U.S. EDM) and the advert.

Hybridity? Isn’t this the hybrid of a YouTube film and a television advert? I’ll write some more about hybridity in the semiotics bit.

  • Semiotics: how images signify cultural meanings [Saussure]

Throughout this advert there are the signifiers of wealth (white, gold, hotel with a view, bell-boy). These signify success, especially in mainstream American culture, and the link is made (which is very common in advertising) between the way people look and their status.

The flip side of this, which is part of all advertising, is the fear it plays on. As Marilyn Manson said in the film Bowling for Columbine


This advert tells you that without the product you will not have an exciting and glamorous life.

I think it is important here to make sure that you are aware of who this advert is aimed at. It is aimed at young, white women. I repeat. It is aimed at young, white women. There aren’t enough men glamming-up to make financial sense and black women only make up 12% of the population (hispanics are 16% if you were wondering). So why choose Manny and Shyla? To be blunt Manny is the gay best friend trope.


And Shyla is the sassy black friend trope.


Both have existed to allow progressive signalling in media products for decades (usually in media products which place a white, heterosexual person at the centre of the narrative). What you can see in the Maybelline advert is the lack of a white (Manny is Hispanic btw), hetero female. This allows the viewer to insert herself into the empty space. In her, subconscious, projection, she has these people as friends.

This is also part of the hybridity thing too. YouTube is great at fostering the illusion of intimacy (where we believe that we are being personally addressed) and quickly builds parasocial relationships (where we have a relationship, with all the emotions and attachments that it brings, with people that we never physically meet) and is probably better at it than any previous media platform.

YouTube stars speak directly to us. They reply to comments. They interact.

If the advert is using the semiotic language of YouTube then the viewer is pulled into this attachment (even more so if they already consume the stars YouTube content.

In other Saussurian news there is a lot of tradition in this advert. We have street clothes (notice Shayla’s denim jacket – middle-American safeness) which are transformed into  glamorousness (black, gold, glittery and decorative). There’s also a bell-boy. You can’t get more trad than a bell-boy.

We have aural signification too. Listen to those little chimes which signify fairy magic from 0.33 to 0.38. How very Tinkerbelle Disney.

But there is some quite radical signification going on too and the biggest news is not necessarily Manny. It’s Shayla’s body shape.

To say that America has a torturous relationship with race would be a mahousive understatement. The post-slavery, post-civil-rights, Black Lives Matters landscape is full of difficult issues. This leads to issues around hair (natural, straightened, extended), skin tone (colourism  – where lighter skin tones are linked to higher status) and body shape (for men and women it’s about muscles and curves). They all convey deep meaning.

In lots of ways Shayla conforms to American standards and ideals. Her hair is straight and extended which signifies conventional super-femininity but it also adheres to white conventions of beauty. If you want to know how important this is check this out.

Her skin is (I feel so bad writing about this btw – nobody should discuss anybody’s colour, just, not, right) quite dark and her body shape is, use the correct phrasing “hella thick”.

This is very important. Fashion has always been about the super-skinny. Yes there are some bigger girls modelling out there now but when you throw race into the mix it becomes much more. People better than me have written about black women and body shape. All I am going to say is Kim Kardashian bought herself Shayla’s body so that proves that black body shapes are in right now.

Men have been wearing make-up, off and on, for millenia. Shayla is, arguably, more radical. AQA should know this.

The final thing I will say about signification is that this advert (with the magic and the transformation and the sparkles) is that it links to one of the prime fairy-tale myths. I’ll let Kit from Pretty Woman tell you what it is.


That’s the promise of every make-up advert and product.

If you want to sound even more clever you can talk about myths and mythemes.

This is where semiotics meets big cultural stories. They were written about by Roland Barthes, 


French academic and man who has perfected the Gallic way of hanging a cigarette like Lucky Luke. Also check out the mic. Less a microphone and more of a maxophone.

The Cinderella story is part of a powerful cultural myth. The elements that lead you to think about it, like the chimes and elements of the narrative, are mythemes. The advert builds meaning out of this and turns Manny and Shayla into a combination of Cinderella (who will go to the ball) and fairy godmothers (who will help the bell-boy, and the viewer, find their Prince Charming). Mythemes help to build meaning in poems, books, plays, art, film, T.V. shows, adverts and games.

There is another myth that appears here. And it literally is a myth. This one.


O.K. so the bell-boy doesn’t turn into a golden statue but the magical power to create gold (and wealth, glamour and status) runs through the advert.

  • How advertising conventions are socially and historically relative [Genre? – Neale?]

Neale contends that genre pleasures come from “similarity and difference” and this ad is all about that. I pointed out how it is just like all those other adverts (with a usage/tutorial/transformation thing going on in it) and the Cinderella thing but the difference is Manny and Shayla. They are the USP (unique selling point) behind this campaign.

  • The significance of challenging or subverting advertising conventions

There is a continuum of innovation. It is true in music, film, fashion in fact all cultural endeavors.

It goes like this.

Outsider/possibly criminal


Cutting edge/stylish/zeitgeist

Fashionable. Everybody wants it.

Mainstream. Everybody has it. Safe. A bit dull.



Nostalgia (You re-like it – and you remember it from before. You can’t be nostalgic for something you don’t remember)

Retro (If you weren’t around the first time)

Finally the elements in the retro version can be recycled into radical or cutting edge new cultural products and go back around again (this is why you notice that fashion and music, especially, seem to have cycles).

This advert throws some Avant-garde/radical bits into what is really quite a mainstream product.

  • The way in which media language incorporates viewpoints and ideologies

I’ve written about viewpoints and ideologies before here. Scroll down till you get to the values and ideology bit.

The values and ideologies on display here are a blend, again, of the mainstream/traditional and the radical. On the one hand the consumerism and status displays are part of capitalism (as you would expect from the beauty business) but the gender, sexuality and race displays are much more radical. I have a suspicion that whoever wrote the notes from the board looked at the make-up on Manny and equated it with 80s new-romantics but this is much more out in its homosexuality. Manny can be free to be camp in this advert and refer to himself as “Mama” so this is not an ad that hides aspects of Manny from the audience.

In fact the final frames go even further. The bell-boy is now a gold-clothed non-servant and he is looking to get some of the status that the glamour can give him. The facial expression and body-language indicate that he is stealing but that he couldn’t help himself (and that this is only to be expected).

The straight world wants some of the sugar.

Narrative [Todorov]

  • How does the Maybelline advert position its audience

From the outset this advert needs the audience to identify with Manny and Shayla. They also need the viewer to want to be them. It is important therefore that Manny and Shayla are not presented as New Yorkers but as people visiting New York; their excitement reflects the sort of excitement that most people would have. In this sense using the YouTubers is important as their whole method of operating is to be an approachable,  larger than life, version of the viewer rather than a remote icon.

As the advert progresses the viewer is supposed to believe that the same transformation could happen to them.

Later on it becomes clearer that the bell-boy is a proxy for the viewer (whatever their gender) and that it is possible for anyone to join the Manny and Shayla group.

  • How does the Maybelline advert construct a narrative which appeals to its target audience

The glam transformation narrative has been appealing ever since Cinderella first put on some glass slippers (BTW that was originally ancient China, she was the most beautiful girl because she had the smallest feet – foot binding – and the fairy godmother was a goldfish) but there are also lots of other appealing narrative elements here. The idea of going to the big city where you can be a glamorous version of the rural/small-town/suburban you is as old as cities themselves.

In Todorov terms


the disruption is arriving in New York. The new equalibrium is the new, glamorous them/you at the end.

  • The ways in which the advert can attract a range of responses and interpretations

Look at these YouTube responses.


Obviously the theorist to bring in at a time like this is . . .


Stuart Hall. His work on audience positioning is what you need. Those writing “Yaaas” are clearly working to a preferred reading. Look at the last two comments. They don’t identify completely with Manny but are positive. This hints at a negotiated reading. Ruby Simpson’s “This is sooo cringy” clearly hints at an oppositional reading.

  • How does this advert create desire for the product

Really AQA? From street to glam? Throw in a Cinderfuckingrella twist? New York, New York it’s a hell of a town? Gold? All the semiotics you looked at are about creating desire for the product. Glam equals status and success.

Also look at the first comment. They used real lashes in the ad and it was noticed. That says something about the MUA culture on YouTube and the way Maybelline is interacting with it. This is a product you desire because the producer knows the new consumers. It gets what they get.

Techniques of Persuasion

  • Students should be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the persuasive techniques used in the advert and issues surrounding brand values, brand message, brand personality and brand positioning should inform the analysis

This is why I included all those old Maybelline adverts. Maybelline has a particular set of values, messages, personality and narratives.

1: Maybelline New York. That’s their name.

Max Factor are “The Make-up of Make-up artists” and are Hollywood but Maybelline are linked to the home of American high fashion. They say they take looks “from the catwalk to the sidewalk” so the promise is that Big Apple sophistication can be anyone’s.

They are actually owned by L’Oreal (French) but they have other brands to sell that story!

2: New stars as brand ambassadors.

Maybelline’s advertising has often used a particular type of star as a brand ambassador. They often use New York fashion models but they also use media stars. Lynda Carter (the T.V. Wonder Woman in the 1970s), Sarah Michelle Geller (Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the 90s) and our YouTubers. Not Hollywood but more approachable, “relatable” (I hate that word) stars.

3: Youthful

Maybelline is a youth-oriented brand so it aims to project a more progressive set of attitudes to attract a younger consumer.

Media Representations

Discussion of the Maybelline advert will focus mainly on representation of gender, age, ethnicity and lifestyle with opportunities for direct comparison with other advertising CSPs. Focusing on:-

  • The way the media through re-presentation constructs versions of reality

This is a hyper-real version of New York. The bell-boy, the VFX, the glitter.

Real New York is more pizza rat.


The ad is a construct, built out of a real room, real people and a real product but the final, media product, is a construction.

  • How and why stereotypes can be used positively and negatively

Check out my notes on stereotyping. Both Manny and Shayla conform to some stereotype tropes but they are used in a Medhurst way (as a shorthand to establish character) and in a Perkins way (i.e. not negatively).

  • The processes which lead media producers to make choices about how to represent social groups

There are points when social groups become zeitgeist-y and fashionable. This is part of progress but is also part of the way capitalist businesses attempt to find USPs and new markets. This advert is part of the way the producer is attempting to put clear water between Maybelline and other beauty brands.

  • How audience responses to interpretations of media representations reflect social, cultural and historical attitudes

This is where that stuff about sexuality, drag culture and MUAs comes in. All these things are, to some extent, less marginal than they were before. They have become part of the cutting-edge part of culture. This means that audience will look favourably on the representation.

  • The effect of social and cultural contexts on representations

Erm . . . this is the same thing but reversed. The change in society and culture (where homosexuality and gay culture are decriminalized, accepted and finally celebrated) allows this representation to exist. A similar process also happens here for the representation of race.

  • Theories of representation including Hall


What this means is that Hall says we use semiotics to receive information but that we are constantly reevaluating it. The meaning that those YouTube commentators made over a year ago might well be different now (Manny has had a few controversial moments for example) and they might affect the way they view him, and so therefore, the product.

What we also need to be aware of is that Maybelline is a big, capitalist, entity. They aren’t projecting this set of representations out of an altruistic desire to change the world. They are just sniffin’ the wind and following the trail. If there appears to be money in it then they will be progressive. If not they’ll drop it like a hot potato.

  • Theories of identity including Gauntlett

I’ve got loads of identity stuff here and here. The key Gauntlett ideas are:

• Fluidity of identity

• Constructed identity

• Negotiated identity

• Collective identity.

Firstly these ideas rely on the other identity stuff I’ve written about which is bound up with how positively you feel about the identity group you belong to and which identities you feel strongly about.

Gauntlett’s ideas are clearly evident in the following ways:

Fluidity of identity: The transformation that is possible in applying mascara, in the advert, hints at the way the viewer can alter their identity by consuming the product.

Constructed identity: Our identity display is made up of the things we choose to show or to hide. Manny and Shyla, in the advert, go from a street look to a full night-out look. This may be only a display of identity but this also demonstrates that we build identity from cultural things we consume and reproduce.

Negotiated identity: Negotiated identity is the process whereby we let people know who we are, and therefore how they should treat us. We are also supposed to remain truthful to the persona we present. Notice that Shayla and Manny still behave the same way before and after the transformation. They are the same people just wrapped differently.

Collective identity: People belong to groups. We identify their membership of those groups in a variety of ways. Some ways are involuntary (race in the case of Shayla) and others are voluntary (Manny’s use of make-up and language).

Social and cultural contexts

Analysis of the Maybelline advert will enable students to enter discourses on gender fluidity and engage with the idea that for advertisers, gender is no longer important – the only identity that matters is as consumer. The changes in cultural and social norms are well-reflected in this product and the changing expectations of audiences and consumers can be explored through this product.

This is where you can bring in your knowledge of Judith Butler.

BTW this video is also super-helpful for your work on The Sims: Freeplay.

The entire advert is an exercise in Butleresque (is that a word?It is now) display. The use of make-up by Manny suddenly makes clear how much of an artificial construct all our gender performances are.

One thought on “If you were born with it that would be just weird. Everything you need to answer a question, for Paper 1, on “That Boss Life”. AQA Media studies. Maybelline advert CSP.

  1. Pingback: Maybe it’s Maybelline? Notes to help you with “That Boss Life Part 1”. AQA A Level Media Studies. – Mr G's English, Film and Media.

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