A Lesson From The Shea Moisture PR Blunder

When I logged into my favourite online platform, Twitter, on April 24th 2017 I must say I was initially excited to see Shea Moisture trending until I saw why they were trending. Shea Moisture has an advertising campaign which is supposed to be empowering for anyone who has ever experienced hair hate. The advert that I was initially sent was this one:

The second advert was this one:

You can see that whilst both have very similar messages they are quite different and in my view there seemed to be “texture segregation”. Clearly the ethnic make-up of the participants in each advert is different. This does not take away from the ethnicity of the first model in the initial advert but clearly the main focus in this advert was a Caucasian/European audience. Just looking at that first advert I can see how loyal customers from the Afro-Caribbean community could take offence to that advert as quite honestly it reeks of erasure. I also personally feel as though the issue of hair hate was not tackled sensitively enough in the first video, black women and girls face serious systematic abuse because of their hair, losing jobs and places at school.  I am not sure that having to dye one’s hair blonde has quite the same impact on our societal perspectives but I’d be interested in learning about them if they do occur.

I am confused as to why they didn’t just combine the two adverts particularly given how passionate they seem to be about unity and diversity. I have seen their social media platforms which are inclusive and watched one of their adverts which was even more inclusive:

As you can see from this advert there is an almost utopian vision of how hair should be collective appreciated and how their brand to be received. So I do not understand to why they decided to create a campaign which seemed to separate ethnicities and textures so blatantly.

I have influencer and blogger  contacts in the natural hair community who were disappointed and have actually been expressing disappointment at the direction of Shea Moisture’s marketing and PR for a while. If I have been noticing that then surely whoever monitors their online coverage should notice what these bloggers and influencers are saying or are they not paying attention to the people who are driving traffic and potential business.

In essence it would appear that going “mainstream” is more important than respecting their core demographic which has always been the African-American and African/Caribbean community. I understand that the brand wants to reach new markets and thus wants to appear open to all however a brand of this scale must always remember to pay homage to the very people who helped them to grow and actually demanded better access to their products internationally. I know many black women who could not wait for the brand to be launched in The UK because of the lack of products for Afro hair on the high street.  But I also know that those very women deserve respect and visibility in every step of the growth journey. These women and more took to social media to voice their disappointment and concerns and they deserve to, gone are the days when brands can sit behind closed doors and be willfully ignorant to the demands of the public.

Given how that so many mainstream hair and beauty brands still don’t represent and include BMEs in advertising campaigns as well as offer diverse product ranges to begin with, Shea Moisture could and should have been the change we want to see. They could have explored new markets without excluding their old one. I don’t mind them trying to attract new audiences but the advert in question seemed to erase their main demographic and they had to admit that by pulling the advert because they felt the full force of disappointment from their core demographic.

It also shows us that when all is said and done be sensitive to your biggest supporters, particularly in an era of social media. All those black women who were disappointed were probably their biggest fans and advocates and to overlook them if only on this one occasion was unwise. I would also like to make a quick point about entering new markets i.e. appealing to new ethncities, I am somewhat surprised that many people are arguing that Shea Moisture needs to “enter new markets” when in essence if they were to solely dedicate themselves to Afro-Caribbean hair they have the vast continent of Africa, the many islands of the Caribbean and much of South America not to mention the African American population of the US and the African/Caribbean diaspora internationally to appeal to. I feel like by saying that they HAVE to appeal to new markets for survival, one diminishes the value of the black hair and beauty market on a global level. Again I am not saying that they should not appeal to a wider demographic, simply that the organisation needs to be more sensitive to how they undertake their PR Communications, marketing and advertising strategy.

Lesson: If you don’t pay attention to your most loyal customer, you will end up paying for it by losing more than just money but trust and respect as a whole.

What can Shea Moisture do now? They have apologised although people are wondering how diverse their leadership and communications team really is so they need to be transparent about who is in their team – so panel discussions and media interviews might help.  They need to assure their core demographic that they will not change the products that they have and they really need to ensure they listen to influencers, bloggers and customers about what their issues and concerns are going forward.

*Update 28th April.

CEO Shea Moisture CEO Rich Dennis Addresses the controversy of the advert on popular morning radio show The Breakfast Club. A worthy apology however the biggest red flag here was that he admits the advert went out without approval. I’d be a little more than concerned about the processes and thinking behind that but anyway here is his apology. What do you think?

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  1. April 25, 2017 / 6:14 pm

    Really well said. I felt there was something disingenuous about them saying they HAVE to appeal to ‘new markets’ when so much research points to the large spending power of black women when it comes to hair products and like you said there are unexplored markets outside the UK and US. They were well on their way to being the cornerstone of black hair care. Not so sure now…

    • April 26, 2017 / 8:31 am

      Thanks you’re right! They really should have thought more about the direction of that campaign.