SheaMoisture's growing pains as they expand market - social media backlash for ads

A funny thing happened on SheaMoisture's way to expanding their market share... They offended their core market and have been met with a hailstorm of criticism on social media, blogs and vlogs ever since. If you search Youtube for "SheaMoisture Cancelled," you'll find plenty of influencers giving their opinion of the controversy.

The hated ad Hair hate is real follows in the footsteps of their brand relaunch last year where their brand promised to the break down the walls between the "ethnic" aisle and the "beauty" aisle. In the new ad that stirred up all the negative reactions, a few women speak about their 'hair journeys', from hating their hair to finally accepting it and loving it. The concept of learning to love your natural hair is very similar to an earlier Dove ad called "Love your hair."

The problem with the ad is the casting. The women in it all have beautiful hair worthy of envy, because they use Shea Products, but they speak of having had a hard time accepting their hair before learning to love it. The light skinned black girl has fantastic loose curls and long hair, the redhead's hair is shiny and a beautiful color, the blond seems to channel all stereotypical airhead blonds, because she simply did not know what to do with her hair. The black girl's complaint about her hair was that people threw paper on it, which would stick. What she is describing sounds like school bullying. The redhead admits to bleaching her hair, because she wasn't "meant to be a redhead" (something that actually carries a stigma still in certain parts of the world), which just sounds like her own self-confidence issue... And then the blond just didn't know what to do. No wonder people got annoyed by this ad. Let's watch.

The tone of the ad is in a word wrong. The ad is as tone deaf as the Jenner Pepsi ad. Their stories sound superficial, and the casting is a brutal fail. The reaction from the core fans of the brand have honed in on this, specifically. There's only one curly haired woman in the ad, and she's got the perfectly attractive soft ringlet curl. There's no kinky haired women in the ad, no coiled hair. SheaMoisture realize that they hit all the wrong notes and issued an unusually humble apology on their Instagram:

"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…"

But it was too late, the outrage-ball was already rolling. CampaignLive reported that actress Yvette Nicole Brown called SheaMoisture out for building its brand "on the backs of black people" and then tossing them aside when it went mainstream.

Her comments were made on "The Karen Hunter Show," which airs on Sirius XM’s Urban View channel.


"Back in the day, the first shows had were a lot of black shows, and they built their entire brand on the backs of shows like ‘Living Single’ and ‘In Living Color,’" said Brown, who’s known for her roles in NBC’s "Community" and CBS's "The Odd Couple." "It’s a model that they follow in network television. will build the brand on the backs of black people because there’s not a lot of entertainment for us, and then once they get their numbers up, they throw us aside, and then they make it a white network."


Brown noted that Fox isn’t the only network to follow this pattern, citing UPN, the WB and the CW as other examples. She then suggested that SheaMoisture, a brand she has long admired, was following the same pattern.


"And so I’m just saying that that’s the model," Brown said. "We’re always the last ones that they cater to. They use us to build, build, build, and then they just toss us aside."


Campaignlive also embeds the Tweet discussion between Yvette Nicole Brow & their article's author, as they have altered their article on Friday since "Yvette Nicole Brown used her Twitter feed to express her dissatisfaction with our choice of words to describe her comments."

Celebrities and influencers are not the only people who has been tweeting about this brand misstep, everyone from ADPR professionals offering to prevent future blunders to fashionistas, influencers and fans have tweeted about the ad. As Adweek notes "Black Twitter registered its disapproval of the first ad in the brand’s new campaign." It's the same on Black Instagram and Black Youtube. Ironic that the brand who wishes to break down the walls is disparaged from only one side of the metaphorical aisle. Rumours of watered down formulas in order to appeal to the "white market" are flying around, while SheaMoisture vehemently denies this is the case.

Fastcompany reports on what Shea Moisture learned from their social media disaster:

Shea Moisture parent Sundial Brands co-founder and CEO Richelieu Dennis says as the brand broadens its consumer market, it cannot forget or even appear to forget its core audience.


“It just shows the level of love and passion people have for the brand, and how much they want to make sure it continues to stand for them, even as it starts to broaden its audience, they want to make sure they’re not left behind,” says Richelieu. “And that’s clear to us. We need to make sure we spend the time engaging with that community, encouraging them, and letting them know that just because we’re growing doesn’t mean they’re less important. in fact, they become more important because they’re the ones who have always advocated for us.”


He says he recognizes the larger issue here, that goes far beyond a haircare product. The racial stereotypes that have impacted black women, and their lack of representation in media and advertising, were not adequately taken into consideration. “To equate their struggles with hair to those of other women, is in their minds trivializing their struggles, and we can’t forget that,” says Richelieu. “The people who are unhappy here aren’t necessarily saying they don’t like white women. What they are saying is, for decades they’ve been underserved and white women have plenty of products on the shelves and advertising aimed at them, and that we should keep our focus on our audience, and not lose that focus just because we’re broadening our audience.”

Last year's ad, created by Droga5, spoke about breaking down the walls in the beauty supply stores. SheaMoisture are a family operated brand that originated in South Africa 25 years ago. "For a long time, we said that the only place in America where segregation was still legal was the beauty aisle. So we waited 16 years to bring our products to retail because we refused to operate within a system where our community was not served well with choice, access or inclusion. Let’s be clear. Separate but equal has never worked in any arena, including beauty. So, we were proud with Break the Walls to tell the stories of so many women who ever experienced being underserved by the beauty industry – and we will continue to tell those stories." It's on this inclusive thought that the brands core message rests. In this day and age a message of individuality and inclusiveness seems like it would be loved by everyone, but there's a balance in branching out. Brands that were adopted by subcultures before going mainstream such as Converse and Dr Martens know that the core fans can be turned off easily. Rumours about products being watered down aren't quelled by an ad that frankly looks like a watered down "safe" Dove ad.

SheaMoisture has been accused of "whitewashing" earlier this year, together with other natural hair brands: "Carol’s Daughter and Shea Moisture are ready to appeal to a wider audience — but who loses out?" But SheaMoisture responded quite firmly to that, reminding fans that "we don’t take any of our community for granted and are a certified minority, black-owned, family-held business that has taken pride in serving our community for 25 years – when large conglomerates ignored women of color and simply marketed products to them vs. making products for them."

We have different hair and skin needs based on who we are as individuals. As a company, we have chosen to take a more thoughtful and specific approach to our products that is based on those needs – whether hair that is 4c, 3b, 2a, thick, thinning, damaged, dry, coily, curly, wavy, straight…or skin that is dry, oily, or distressed by psoriasis, eczema or any number of conditions – we’ve created a product for it. We make no apologies for solving for and speaking to our community as human beings and not as data points.

Human beings, not data points! Preach it! As I've revealed when reviewing before, I shop in the "ethnic aisle" when I travel to the US because if I don't, my hair looks like this:

The issue rests entirely with the ad's execution. It cast the wrong models and each hair-journey sounded like superficial tripe. If there's one thing all consumers have in common, is that they can tell when you're being disingenuous. This will always cause a backlash regardless of who your target is. Any brand that wants to grow to expand their market share will have to balance on the edge where they don't offend the core while reaching out to the mainstream. It's ironic though, that a brand that grew in the aftermath of apartheid has to actually justify wanting to be inclusive to all people.

about the author

Dabitch Creative Director, CEO, hell-raising sweetheart and editor of Adland. Globetrotting Swede who has lived and worked in New York, London, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Stockholm.

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