that boss life screenshot

That Boss Life

That Boss Life

Maybelline’s “That Boss Life”, featuring Manny G and Shayla, is an advertising and marketing text which could appear in Section A of the first AQA A-Level Media Studies paper. It is a targeted close study product (CSP) with a particular focus on media language and media representation. You will need to consider any relevant context, including its cultural and social significance.

Significantly, Manny Gutierrez was the first man to become an ambassador for a Maybelline product, so this advertisement marks the shift from the traditional target audience of young girls to a wider demographic. It also reflects the fluidity of gender identities and how values and ideology are never fixed.

The Advertisement

Semiotic Analysis of That Boss Life

The dominant reading of the text is obviously how Maybelline’s mascara can have a transformative effect on your life. The advertisement also raises brand awareness. Since you have to study the text in terms of media language, we should look at the signs and some of the technical aspects of filmmaking used to encode this message .

Colour Codes

The most obvious signifier is the colour gold. It is introduced on the title card “That Boss Life” and on the label “Big Shot Mascara”. The producers then direct the viewer’s attention to the gold suitcase on the trolley by making it stand out among the other pastel-coloured cases and tracking the camera so it dominates the mise-en-scène. When Manny and Shayla open the suitcase, it reveals a divine light. The angelic sound effect, an important aural code in the text, and their positive reaction reinforces the mental concept of beauty and bliss.

The gold suitcase in That Boss Life
Screenshot from “That Boss Life”

In the close up of Shayla’s eyes, you might notice she is wearing gold eye shadow. Manny’s eyes also have a gold sparkle.

The room is then transformed into a wonderful world full of gold. A gold filter has been applied to the footage in post-production so everything is tinged with this heavenly hue. The bed sheet and pillowcases are gold. Even the lampshade is now gold.

The marketing team are obviously trying to connect the Maybelline brand to this culturally important colour code. Although gold is simply a rare mineral, it has wider connotations of wealth, power and status. This myth is the second order of meaning in Roland Barthes’ signification process.

Dress Codes

At the start of the video, Shayla and Manny appear in their everyday clothes. This natural look is epitomised by her denim jacket and his plain white T-shirt. This representation will make them instantly relateable to their target audience.

Importantly, the dress codes also have gold aspects. Manny wears a jacket with an elaborate gold design, Shayla’s black dress has golden sparkles and the bellhop has a gold suit. The two YouTubers accessorise their glamorous look with gold necklaces and chains.

The producers have added more lens flares and sparkles to the composition to reinforce the product’s brilliance.

screenshot from That Boss Life showing the bellhop stealing the mascara
Screenshot from “That Boss Life”

Connotations of Luxury

Other signifiers also connote this strong desire for luxury and glamour. For instance, after they open the suitcase, Manny and Shayla tip the contents onto the bed and then cavort with the bottles of mascara. Their action echoes the money fetish trope used by storytellers.

Perhaps the best example of this trope is Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013), who sleeps with his wife on a bed of cash. In fact, Martin Scorsese uses a low angle shot at one point so the audience can only see DiCaprio on top of the money.

Manny and Shayla kissing the mascara
Screenshot from “That Boss Life”


The setting for the advertisement is New York, which is signified by the skyscrapers outside the window, especially the One World Trade Center. Of course, Maybelline’s headquarters are in New York, but the audience will also recognise the location for its glamour and excitement. Our frameworks of knowledge might include the myths that New York is the “city that never sleeps” or the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of”. This is a place where we want to be.

The lexical code “big shot” supports this reading of the setting because it is slang for someone who is control of their business, but there is also an arrogance associated with that hegemony. You too can be the big shot of your world if you buy this mascara.

Non-verbal Codes

Shayla and Manny are clearly very excited about being in New York and their energy is infectious. Their facial expressions when they open the suitcase full of mascara builds desire for the product. This is strongly reinforced by the way they both play with product on the bed. This representation might seem ridiculous, but it does position the audience to want to buy the product so they can enjoy it themselves.

The reaction shot when they re-enter the “bossed up” room suggests the audience will also be amazed by the quality of the mascara. The pouting and posing at the end of the video connote confidence and seduction.

Like the bellhop’s smile and shrug of the shoulders signify, who wouldn’t try to steal this mascara and take advantage of its life-changing effects?


In terms of Charles Peirce’s triadic model of communication, the object is to engage the audience into purchasing a Maybelline product the next time we are in the beauty aisle. This message is achieved with the careful combination of representamen throughout the narrative which create concepts of luxury, confidence and beauty.

Disclaimer: You may not need this level of detail in your media studies examination, but certain parts of the close analysis of “That Boss Life” might be useful to support your response to the different questions which could appear on the paper. If the question does focus on media language, you will have plenty of evidence to support your interpretation.

Advertising Techniques

Some advertisements are used to raise brand awareness, but most will feature the actual product being sold. In “That Boss Life”, there are the inevitable close ups of the product throughout the video. Shayla and Manny also demonstrate how the mascara is applied to eyelashes. In terms of technical codes, the producers capture these moments in slow motion and add bling sound effects to draw our attention to the fantastic product on offer.

Close up of the mascara being advertised
Advertising Convention – Focus on the Product

For the audience to decode the message successfully, our framework of knowledge must also include an appreciation of the two content creators and their expertise regarding makeup. Therefore, the two-step flow theory is a relevant approach to understanding this advertisement.

Shayla and Manny are opinion leaders because they are part of a strong digital social network –  Manny has over 4.8m subscribers on YouTube and Shayla can count 2.7m followers on her Instagram. Their audience also trusts their engaging opinions on makeup and beauty. In other words, opinion followers can relate to their personalities and are very receptive to their message.

It is important to note that influencers are content creators who are paid by companies to endorse, review or advertise a product. The number of followers or subscribers is irrelevant, except to the amount of money they can charge for their services.

that boss life screenshot of Manny and Shayla
Screenshot from “That Boss Life”

If you are familiar with Gillian Dyer’s (1982) lines of appeal, you will recognise the advertiser’s use of celebrity endorsement creates excitement for the product because they are associating the mascara with “important people, celebrities or experts”. There is also the appeal to our desire for “rich luxurious lifestyles” and our “dreams” to be like these “beautiful people”.

In terms of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, this product could fulfil our desire for self-esteem that comes from developing self-confidence and self-respect. It might also fulfil an aesthetic need. Similarly, the mascara could appeal to our personal identity as defined by the uses and gratifications theory.

According to the AIDA principle, one of the most enduring models of marketing communication, advertisers will try attract attention to the product or service. Again, the use of the two influencers will satisfy this first stage. Their journey to New York and getting “bossed up” might engage the audience’s interest. Their glamorous transformation creates desire for the mascara by suggesting we can also benefit from the product. If you are persuaded by their performance, you might take action and treat yourself to a new mascara.

You should also consider how the advertisement was distributed. With a running time of over one minute, longer than a traditional television slot, this text appeared on various digital platforms, including YouTube. This demonstrates the producer’s awareness of their primary target audience and how they consume the media.


The style of this production echoes the conventions of structured reality television shows. It seems unscripted and natural, but there are also some fantasy elements to the story.

Tzvetan Todorov’s argument that a “complete minimum plot consists of the passage from one balance to another” can be easily applied to this advertisement because there is clear and deliberate movement to a new equilibrium at the end of the narrative. The story begins with arrival of our two intrepid heroes at their hotel. This disequilibrium consists of a white t-shirt, denim jacket and a bland room. Even the bellhop looks stale in his grey uniform. In terms of non-diegetic sound, this section of the narrative is defined by the synthesised percussion.

Manny and Shayla then apply their mascara and get “bossed up”. This repair is identified by change in music – the faster pace and use of crescendo.

The story reaches its new equilibrium of glamour and confidence with the music in full verse.

In terms of Vladimir Propp’s narrative theory, the folklorist described how heroes often needed a magical object to dispel the misfortune in their lives. Maybelline’s mascara helps Manny and Shayla defeat the evil of thin eyelashes. Using it he product could be the twenty-ninth function of his theory – the transfiguration. Our heroes are certainly given new clothes and are transformed at the end of the narrative.

Finally, the advertisement includes two YouTube personalities so it fulfils Ronald Tobias’s idea of the buddy concept in his definition of a quest narrative.

Representation and Identity

In his investigation into the fluidity of identity, David Gauntlett (2008) noted how the representation of gender in the media was beginning to break down the old binary definitions and was now offering a more diverse range of identities. Women, who were simply stereotyped as housewives and passive in the past, were now represented as empowered and assertive. Instead of the physical and combative masculine identity, men could now be seen as sensitive and introspective without any ridicule.

In “That Boss Life”, Manny epitomises this blurring of masculinity and femininity. He wears trousers and a jacket, typical of masculine dress codes, but his verbal and non-verbal codes, such as his final pose to camera, are quite feminine. He has facial hair but he is also confident in his identity to use mascara.

If the media does help us construct our identity, this representation delivers a broader definition of masculinity. The bellhop’s transformation from the stale-grey worker into the dazzling-gold thief also shows that all men could benefit from this product. As Judith Butler (1999) argued, gender is performative so this text might help the audience to rethink their views on masculinity.

However, it could be argued that Shayla reinforces traditional feminine codes. For example, her sparking black dress is a confident celebration of femininity.

Comprehension Questions

  1. Explain why the marketing team employed Shayla and Manny to be the faces of this particular advertisement. Make sure you define and describe the target audience in your response.
  2. Look closely at the turning point of the narrative when the two influences apply the mascara. What techniques did the filmmakers use to encode glamour and excitement?
  3. Describe the bellhop’s character arc and how it reinforces the advertisement’s message.
  4. Listen again to the advertisement. How do the aural codes, especially the non-diegetic sounds, anchor the audience’s interpretation of the different beats of the narrative? For example, how does the tonal change in music reflect the mascara’s power to transform the wearer?
  5. Comment on the change from the use of high key lighting at the start of the video to the warmer low key lighting when Shayla and Manny have been “bossed up”.
  6. Pick one element from the advertisement and explain why you think it might persuade the target audience to buy the mascara.
  7. From your reading of the text, what do you think are Maybelline’s brand values?

Essay Questions

  1. Evaluate the usefulness of Barthes’ theories about semiotics in understanding advertising and marketing texts.
  2. Explain how the conventions of advertising and marketing have been used to construct meaning in the Close Study Product Maybelline ‘That Boss Life part 1’.
  3. Explain how values and ideologies are communicated by media language used the Close Study Product Maybelline ‘That Boss Life part 1’.
  4. Evaluate the usefulness of Judith Butler’s theories about gender performativity in understanding the Close Study Product Maybelline ‘That Boss Life part 1’.
  5. Explore how representations of gender have been constructed in the Close Study Product ‘That Boss Life part 1’.
  6. How do representations of gender reflect their social and historical context.
  7. Analyse the Close Study Product Maybelline ‘That Boss Life part 1’ in terms of Todorov’s definition of narrative elements, such as disequilibrium and repair.

Further Study

You will want to compare and contrast the representation of gender in “That Boss Life” to Score’s “The Jungle” which is another close study product on the A Level syllabus. It offers a more traditional representation of masculinity and femininity, so you can focus on the fluidity of identity and how gender constructs are not fixed. Although they are examined in Media Two, it is worth considering the representation of masculinity in “Men’s Health” and the representation of femininity in “Oh Comely”.

Finally, you should also look at “That Boss Life Pt 2” where Shayla and Manny get “bossed up” and take a cab to an underground New York hot spot.

Butler, Judith (1999): “Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity”.
Dyer, Gillian (1982): “Advertising as Communication (Studies in Culture and Communication)”.
Gauntlett, David (2008): “Gender, Media and Identity: An Introduction”.

Further Reading

Thanks for reading!