Popular natural hair brand Shea Moisture issued an apology Monday following social media backlash over its latest Facebook ad spot. The ad focuses on personal experiences with hair hate, a concept our community is very familiar with, and notably features a mix of textures and races. The ad opens with a light skinned woman with 3c curls sharing her journey to embracing her natural hair, then cuts to a woman with straight blonde hair, “lots of days spent staring in the mirror like, I don’t know what to do with it,” followed by a woman with red hair sharing that she spent years dying her red hair platinum blonde. The omission of tighter textures and dark skinned women, the brand’s core customer and a group which experiences hair hate in uniquely acute ways, caused a social media maelstrom with accusations of whitewashing and threats to boycott the brand reminiscent of Pepsi’s recent fiasco.
Shea Moisture is getting dragged on their FB page for that new commercial. Yikes pic.twitter.com/8wPFVy83wz
— DarkSkintDostoyevsky (@daniecal) April 24, 2017
To be clear, no one is mad Shea Moisture is opening their product up. Ppl mad b/c they no longer cater to the the audience that made them — Our Portsmouth (@PTownDenizen) April 24, 2017
Black women out here getting fired for having 4c hair and shea moisture has the audacity..... pic.twitter.com/CsLCq5vtEA — SeaSea (@CeceTMach) April 24, 2017
Shea Moisture tell me how you're gonna run a "stop hair hate" ad, but not feature the type of hair that gets the most hate ?PR Newswire issued a full apology
— Yadii In My Blood (@BlessedZvy) April 25, 2017
Wow, okay – so guys, listen, we really f-ed this one up. Please know that our intention was not – and would never be – to disrespect our community, and as such, we are pulling this piece immediately because it does not represent what we intended to communicate. You guys know that we have always stood for inclusion in beauty and have always fought for our community and given them credit for not just building our business but for shifting the beauty landscape. So, the feedback we are seeing here brings to light a very important point. While this campaign included several different videos showing different ethnicities and hair types to demonstrate the breadth and depth of each individual’s hair journey, we must absolutely ensure moving forward that our community is well-represented in each one so that the women who have led this movement never feel that their hair journey is minimized in any way. We are keenly aware of the journey that WOC face – and our work will continue to serve as the inspiration for work like the Perception Institute’s Good Hair Study/Implicit Association Test that suggests that a majority of people, regardless of race and gender, hold some bias towards women of color based on their textured or natural hair. So, you’re right. We are different – and we should know better. Thank you all, as always, for the honest and candid feedback. We hear you. We’re listening. We appreciate you. We count on you. And we’re always here for you. Thank you, #SheaFam, for being there for us, even when we make mistakes. Here’s to growing and building together… A post shared by SheaMoisture (@sheamoisture) on
The controversy continues in the comments section of the apology and the brand is responding directly. Smith-Wilson says "We welcome that level of dialogue, understanding, and engagement, and we’re constantly listening to our consumer community, which means we don’t shy away."
We spoke on Tuesday with the company’s Founder and CEO Richelieu Dennis, who was inspired by his grandmother Sofi Tucker to co-found Sundial Brands with his college roommate and his mother, about whether the brand was surprised by the reaction to the ad, “if this were reaction were to the overall campaign I would have been surprised, because I think the overall campaign articulates our message of inclusion in which we have dozens of different people talking about their need states. In this particular edit there was no representation of 4c or 4b hair types, it didn’t include the diversity that the others did. That was an error on our part, and that's what lead to this response that we’re seeing.”
When asked what they will take from this outpouring from the community, Dennis said "The important thing is that we understand how precious our community is to us. What we need to do differently is have more conversation and engagement with our community as we’re building and growing the business so they understand where we’re headed and are not feeling disenfranchised. We built this business with the community, for the community, and we’re going to continue doing that. We’re not going to forget this core community." He hopes that "twenty five years of work won't be wiped away by one errant Facebook post, which is not at all reflective of who we are as a company. The support of our community is what has enabled us to support women around the globe. There are fifteen thousand women in West Africa who rely on this brand to live above poverty, we wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize that. In no way are we trying to say that we are going to shift our focus from serving women of color when that’s what we’ve championed for 25 years."