Shea Moisture Ad Falls Flat Under Backlash

Skin care company Shea Moisture was forced to deliver a swift and blunt apology Monday after a new ad campaign fell flat with its key demographic and sparked outrage on social media.

Part of its broader #EverybodyGetsLove campaign, the 60-second snippet produced by VaynerMedia, features a series of women talking about how Shea Moisture products delivered them from "hair hate."

While the brand is known for celebrating and featuring Black women as its target audience, many were taken aback to see that between the blonde, two redheads and the curly girl featured, just one of them was Black.

Many Black women cringed and took to social media to call the "#AllHairMatters" campaign an erasure of the loyal demographic who supported the brand from day one: Black women with curly, kinky and tightly coiled hair.

By Monday evening, Shea Moisture pulled the post from Facebook, writing, "Wow, okay - so guys, listen, we really f-ed this one up."

Given the discrimination that Black woman often face when it comes to hair and beauty standards, the disproportionate number of white voices speaking out in the ad about the sensitive topic of "hair hate" was called out on social media as whitewashing, a marketing ploy, and a rejection of Black women.

"This was not our intent. And I understand how that feels to them," Sundial Brands CEO and founder Richelieu Dennis acknowledged late Monday. "While the campaign is heavily representative of women of color, we didn't explain to the community what the larger campaign is about, which is about women's hair challenges."

Dennis said they shot and interviewed more than 40 women of different ethnicities and hair types in an effort to share that Shea Moisture has solutions for all.

"Women are concerned that as Shea Moisture grows, they want to make sure that we are not abandoning them or leaving them for a larger audience," Dennis told NBCBLK. "We're definitely not going away from that, we are increasing our intensity in serving them."

In the last 18 months, Sundial Brands has developed more than 30 products specific to thick, curly natural hair.

The Liberian-born founder has long espoused the idea of inclusivity. In a behind the scenes video for their #BreakTheWalls campaign, he shared his philosophy on the brand: "It's always been about including everyone, about celebrating everyone and celebrating everyone's differences."

While some have declared a boycott of the brand, Dennis urged consumers to reconsider.

"We already have few Black businesses in beauty. I think that it is a mistake to abandon a brand that has served and continues to serve because of a Facebook post. Look at our track record, look at what we've done, we are a business that is trying to grow and we need that support."

Dennis founded Sundial Brands in 1992 with his roommate and mother when he was unable to return to Liberia because of civil war. They began making soaps developed from his grandmother's recipes in his Queens apartment and selling them on the streets of New York City to survive.

The brand has been lauded for its use of natural, ethically sourced and certified organic ingredients, and Dennis once wrote that his company was more of "a mission with a business, rather than a business with a mission."

Even still, "we have to grow the business," Dennis insists, noting that the natural hair care landscape is now fiercely competitive, compared to when he first launched.

"Brands that didn't service women of color for decades are all of the sudden creating campaigns for them to go after that because of the growth they've seen come from us," said Dennis. "The competition that we now see, puts businesses like ours at risk."

Last year, Shea Moisture received praise for their #BREAKTHEWALLS television ad where the barriers between the ethnic hair and beauty aisle are literally torn down.

This ad isn't the first time SheaMoisture has featured white women. In September 2016, the company debuted the ad "What's Normal?" about products for every type of hair. Vlogger Catherine Valdes made a video reviewing products in a paid collaboration with SheaMoisture.


Shea Moisture pulls an ad after getting hammered on social media

Another day, another brand under fire for an ad that many customers saw as tone-deaf.

Shea Moisture is fighting backlash on social media after the brand, a family-owned business with deep ties to the black community, launched a spot that opened with a black woman discussing the difficulties of dealing with her natural hair, but quickly transitioned to two white women -- a blonde and a redhead. One said she didn't "know what to do" with her hair and the other complained about dyeing it.

The intended message was, "Break free from hair hate," but loyal consumers found the juxtaposition was insensitive.

The company has apologized and said it's yanking the ad.

"We really f-ed this one up," Shea Moisture said in a Facebook post. "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."

Richelieu Dennis, the company's founder and CEO, told CNNMoney that women of color continue to be the company's focus.

"Our job is to make sure that they understand that we're still here for them," Dennis said, noting that black women tend to have the "least amount of products in the marketplace for them."

Dennis, who came to the U.S. from Liberia for school but was unable to return home due to a civil war, partnered with his college roommate and his mother to launch Sundial in 1992.

The aim? To "address skin and hair care issues traditionally ignored by mass market companies," according to the company's website. Dennis drew "from deep traditions born out of his family's roots in Africa and passed down to him from his grandmother" to develop Sundial products.

But Sundial has recently looked to expand its customer base.

"There are other consumers that are also wanting natural products, and we're creating products for every hair type," Dennis said.

The company has also brought in another stakeholder -- Bain Capital obtained a minority position in 2015.
But an "overwhelming" amount of the capital brought in from that deal has gone to new products for women of color, Dennis said. The company has launched more than 30 products in the last 18 months for thick to curly natural hair.

The ad was part of a broader campaign that aims "to demonstrate the challenges that women have had and continue to have with the societal norms of beauty," he said. It was developed in partnership with digital ad firm VaynerMedia, according to Dennis.

The agency did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Shea Moisture isn't the first company to get slammed for an ad campaign on social media in recent weeks.

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