What Beauty Brands Can Learn from the SheaMoisture Crisis

Written by Scarlett Rocourt, Founder Wonder Curl

On Tuesday morning, April 25th, I watched my Facebook timeline blow up about people leaving 1 star reviews on the SheaMoisture Facebook page. I went to investigate what was going on and read a lot of disappointed customers in their latest ad campaign. I did a quick search and YouTube showed this controversial ad.

I watched the ad, and right away I saw what was wrong with it. My first thought was, where are WE?

To be fair, SheaMoisture had previously produced a series of ads about Hair Hate with black women discussing their pain around embracing their natural texture.

Perhaps the company considered this latest campaign as an extension to the original series, in which the series would include white women's experiences into the conversation around loving your hair. I'm guessing SheaMoisture didn’t anticipate the amount of backlash they would have received and, to their credit, posted an apology on their Facebook page.

What can we, as business owners and communicators on behalf of fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands, learn from this clear misstep?

From my perspective as a black, woman business owner with a loyal black customer base, it's all about keeping your core base happy. For generations, in this country, black women have felt ignored by beauty brands, even though they outspend the general market by 80%.

African American women have long held the belief that we ‘can’t have anything for ourselves’ and so when a company like SheaMoisture comes around, we have a deep affinity towards that brand, largely because finally, we have something ‘for us by us’.

Where did SheaMoisture go wrong and how can other businesses avoid making the same disastrous mistake?

Here are 3 key takeaways brands can learn from the SheaMoisture debacle.

Don't whitewash

Don’t ‘white wash’ your messaging to appeal to another demographic. According to Nielsen, 73% of non-Hispanic whites and 67% of Hispanics believe that African-Americans influence mainstream culture. If we consider how TV shows with a strong lead black character, such as Olivia Pope in Scandal, can cross over to a large audience, then brands should understand that there is no need to move away from core brand identity in order to broaden appeal. “In my experience white women are more open to trying a product whether it is targeted to them or not.” says Terrinique Pennerman, Founder & CEO of Kurlee Belle.

Context matters

History and context matters...like a lot. For black women, our hair is political and historically the center of controversy and ridicule. I discuss in more detail just why so many of us were mad at the SheaMoisture ads on HuffingtonPost, but basically, SheaMoisture went wrong by bringing white women into a very controversial and deeply painful conversation about hair hate. While everyone has bad hair days, a white woman lamenting that she doesn’t know what to do with her straight hair angers black women when they’ve had to endure painful chemical relaxers to conform to societal norms.

consider race

Culture and racism are very real concerns in the Black Community. 73 percent of African Americans age 16 to 24 agree that their roots and heritage are more important to them now vs. five years ago,  and 88 percen agree that discrimination is still part of their day-to-day lives. Cultural appropriation is an ongoing concern, vastly troubling to our community. And it keeps happening. Recently, Vogue came under fire for calling model Karlie Kloss look as ‘fresh and new,’ though her look had been done for years by black people in New York City. Preserving Black Culture and understanding racism are very real concerns, and brands should consider how a particular campaign, look or language might be perceived.

Simply put, we are discriminated against for our hair. So, if you want to talk to black women about hair hate, it is important to listen to us and be genuine. Pantene has been rebranding their black hair care line for some time in figuring out how to approach black hair. In their recent campaign for their Gold Series, they play homage to black hair with models sporting hairstyles while a Beyonce-style poem is read.

In today’s age of social media, consumers’ voices are louder than ever and can be heard in real-time. I watched SheaMoisture’s review on Facebook go from 4.9 stars to 1.8 in only 3 days.

Bloggers took to their computers to compile lists of other black-owned businesses where we can spend our almighty dollars. The internet is swift and can be unforgiving, especially when it comes to the Black Community. Blogger, LaShon of fortheloveofcurls.com writes, “My next lesson is that it doesn't pay to be more loyal to a company than they are to me. I have plenty of choices of where to spend my money, so I will choose wisely.”

Dismissing or overlooking historical and cultural context, including racial considerations is a huge miss and unecessarily risky. Particularly when, by keeping the core customer base in mind messaging consistent, brands can still drive allegiance from a diverse set of audiences, all while maintaining brand authenticity.

Scarlett Rocourt is a Haitian-born Jersey girl with lots of curly hair. She started Wonder Curl, a line of haircare products for all textures of curly and natural hair after getting tired of the humidity sabotaging her hair and hiding her locks in buns because of frizz.  Wonder Curl has a loyal customer base including celebrities such as Yara Shahidi and celebrity stylist, Felicia Leatherwood and products have been used on the red carpet at the Golden Globes. Recently, Scarlett began her lifestyle blog, scarlettrocourt.com. Not too shabby for a Jersey girl.