I am so sad that we have to be here today. I bet neither one of us could have even imagined that we would ever have to have this conversation. And yet here we are, both staring at the same commercial and wondering how did this even pass the first sign off. I have been using your products for years. Way before anyone was doing YouTube tutorials on the perfect twist out, or the best hair masque for 4c-type hair. I was a little girl with a ring of black around her tub after using Shea Moisture African Black Soap.
This was the Shea Moisture that did not come wrapped in new packaging and branding, but in simple paper box with the story of the soap and its benefits on the back of the box. My mother owned a beauty supply store at the time, and one of my favorite things to do was to read the stories on the back of your boxes. They gave me so much empowerment as a young black girl learning that these ingredients and products were inspired by black culture.
So, when you all decided to make your hair care products wider spread and include the same types of ingredients I have been using on my body for years, and make it so I could feel that same decadence in my hair I was all aboard. I can say the same for many women of color that had been using products that stripped our hair of moisture for years (because many of us--not all, have differences hair properties when compared to our caucasian counterparts), but Shea Moisture, you already knew that, so I’ll continue.
Now, you can only imagine my confusion as to why, after your “What is Normal?” campaign of celebrating diversity and showing many different hair types, you would believe that this commercial would be anywhere near okay. You focus on four women, three white women (with what most people would call industry standard hair) and a racially ambiguous woman with curly hair. They tell their stories of dying their hair and getting paper balls thrown in their hair and how it was hard to accept their hair throughout their lives. *PAUSE* we are having a conversation about hair acceptance without a single woman that has probably broken a comb in her life? How? Our hair has been debated day in and day out in every space for hundreds of years.
To this day, we have school boards that are trying to ban hair styles that have been in black hair culture for YEARS, TV shows that try to incorporate black women into their hair care segments with NO IDEA on how to do black hair or try to create similar styles when they don’t realize that our hair does not always look the same in a pony tail. To preach a message of inclusivity and not feature someone that looks like your core market bewilders me to be frank. Representation matters.
I am not saying that your products are only for women of color. What I am saying is that even if you are trying to expand your market share and reach into different demographics you cannot negate the people you represent. As a black owned and inspired business, you know the power of the dollar that black women yield especially in the hair care industry. You said it yourself:
I wouldn’t be me without a plan to the solve this issue, so here you go:
1. Issue an apology:
You all have already started this process so you’re on the right path. A heartfelt honest apology that most importantly does not dismiss the feelings of the backlash is the best way to get back on the right foot. Ensure that it is delivered on the mediums where you communicate with your fanbase the most.
2. (Internally) Figure out where you went wrong:
They say, all roads lead to Rome. Figure out where your Rome is and how to ensure that you can expand without having to trek back each time you step outside the country limits. This wasn’t just backlash for showcasing other ethnicities, it was a lot deeper than that and it’s important that not only do you recognize it as a company but you also ensure that whomever is working for and with you understands your brand’s message, voice and tone (agency or not). Find out where this went wrong and map out a plan to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
3. Develop a plan of action to regain the trust of your community:
Be transparent in what happens next. Whether you are re-evaluating your marketing process or diversifying your board. This transparency will help your community see that your are continually making an effort to regain their trust AND that you have a plan of action.
4. Don’t act like it never happened in the future:
Finally, in the future don’t act like it never happened. Ensure that you have enough media around it that when it resurfaces (as all things on the internet love to do) your response appears as well. People should not be able to google the incident without also seeing how you responded.
What do you think? Can they recover from this? How would you proceed from a PR/Marketing POV?
Three women going through life.