This year seems to be the year for advertising gaffes. Pepsi, United Airlines: step aside. There is a new company in town.
In case you did not know already: Shea Moisture received huge backlash from their core consumer group (type 4-haired black female consumers) for an ad that featured a mixed woman with type 3-hair, a blond white woman with straight hair, and two red-haired white women with straight hair who shared their personal experiences on hair hate.
In the minute-long ad, the mixed woman relayed her experience about her struggles with accepting her hair texture, the blond woman shared her story of not knowing what to do with her hair, and one of the red-haired women spoke about her reluctance to accept her natural hair color in her past years.
Not too long after the ad was released, Shea Moisture started trending…in the worst way possible. The ad was everywhere. On April 24, 2017, I found out about it through a Facebook group I am a part of. While looking at the ad, I became increasingly upset.
In an ad owned by a black business, no less, there was a black woman whose hair did not represent my hair, my best friend’s hair, my mother, my aunt’s, my cousin’s hair. It felt like déjà vu, just like a lot of ads from different beauty companies I saw while growing up.
Where were the type 4-haired black women? Where were we to be found?
To say that many black women were livid was an understatement. Comments circulated from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram, videos were being made on YouTube, the works. It was a lot of attention, granted, but definitely not the kind of attention that Shea Moisture needed.
Amid pulling the ad and responding to angry consumers, Shea Moisture issued an apology called “Real Talk” on their social media accounts with the introduction, “Wow, okay – so guys, listen, we really f-ed this one up.”
Yes, Shea Moisture, you did. Royally.
A lot of black women, like myself, felt a sense of betrayal. Beneath all of the anger and strong language, there was a lot of hurt. Initially, I expressed a lot of that confusion and anger on my podcast. The general consensus in the ad faux pas was as follows: After we built this company up, you discarded us like trash? You changed the formula to appease this new demographic? It is apparent that Shea Moisture does not want our black dollars anymore. You are going to see and learn about the power of the black women’s dollar today: SHEA MOISTURE IS CANCELLED.
It has been a long journey to this point.
Shea Moisture was founded in Harlem in 1991 by Richelieu Dennis, Mary Dennis, and Nyema Tubman in honor of Dennis’ grandmother Sofi Tucker, who began selling shea nuts in Bonthe, Sierra Leone in 1912. According to their website, “By age 19, the widowed mother of four was selling Shea Butter, African Black Soap and her homemade hair and skin preparations all over the countryside. Sofi Tucker was our Grandmother and SheaMoisture is her legacy.”
The company definitely reached its apex when natural hair vloggers began featuring their products for their natural hair tutorials. In your local beauty supply store, the products started to show up, even at your local Walmart.
By 2015, Shea Moisture sold 49 percent of its company to Bain Capital, a company founded by 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Here’s the thing: I cannot trust a brand that does not represent or understand me. Period.
Funny enough, I was not introduced to Shea Moisture by someone who was not black. I found the light, didn’t I? Or so I thought until last Monday.
It was either 2014 and 2015, I really cannot remember. One of my former co-workers had a little sister who was looking for a position at my job at the time. I forwarded her sister’s resume, and her sister got the job. As a thank you (she was always nice that way), she gave me a bunch of hair care products from Shea Moisture including a leave-in conditioner, shampoo, and masque.
“I thought these products would be better for your hair,” she told me. “They’re too greasy for mine.”
I saw that the products had Jamaican castor oil and apple cider vinegar, so I tried the JBCO leave-in and shampoo and the Raw Shea Butter masque when I installed twists and re-braided them for a year. After the first deep conditioning session, I was blown away and amazed. As soon as my masque was finished, I took my hair out used the masque again. I couldn’t believe how defined my curls were. Poppage to 1000, every day that’s my word.
I proceeded to spend hundreds of dollars on Shea Moisture and became the product junkie I swore I would never be because here was a company that fully understood me and fully understood my hair in all its tight, kinky coils and glory.
Imagine my utter disappointment when I saw the ad on that Monday.
Do not get me wrong, I understand the intent of the company. Shea Moisture is the “it” beauty brand for black female consumers and they would like to spread the good news about their company far and wide. My question is, at what cost?
As an entrepreneur myself, I definitely understand that concept. You want to go where everybody knows your name. However, I think it is more important to build up the quality of your community and make it indestructible, no matter how small it is. To me, that is where your true power lies.
I hope that Shea Moisture learns from this experience. Black women have a hair story that is on a personal and deep level. The coils that naturally grow from our scalp has been looked down on, politicized, ridiculed, touched by anyone without notice, just simply not understood. Personally, it was reassuring to find a product and brand that finally got me without gimmicks and chemicals. Shea Moisture knew exactly just what my hair and I needed. It is my hope that those intentions have not changed.