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What Shea Moisture Learned (So Far!) From Its Social Media Disaster

Sundial Brands co-founder and CEO Richelieu Dennis talks about the controversial ad, the social fall-out, lessons the brand has learned so far from the experience, and more.

What Shea Moisture Learned (So Far!) From Its Social Media Disaster

Yesterday was a busy one for Shea Moisture. A social content campaign the brand launched late last month suddenly caught fire. But not the good kind of fire, more like the dumpster kind.

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One video in particular, featuring four women talking about their struggles with self-confidence as it relates to their hair, drew the ire of Shea Moisture’s primarily African American consumer base for excluding them from the conversation. The video is part of a series of up to 40 the brand created with agency VaynerMedia, profiling more than 20 different influencers.

By last night the brand had issued a full apology across all its social channels and pulled the ad. “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.”

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…

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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.”

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In hindsight the brand should’ve been more conscious of featuring more examples of its core consumers’ hair types, as well as made sure the individual videos were more clearly shared as part of a larger series.

“What we should’ve done is maybe a mini-documentary to tell the whole story, then take snippets from that for social posts,” says Richelieu. “We could’ve said, let’s do many more hair textures instead of just two or three. There are definitely lessons here and we’re not perfect, we’re not always going to get it right. But what we are always going to do is learn from it.”

As the brand continues to talk to its fans, navigating the fall-out from the social media storm, its chief executive remains optimistic and has found a silver lining.

“I think this is the beginning of a wonderful opportunity for us to engage with women around these issues, and we’ll take some punches for it, but in the end I think it’s well worth it to have the conversation,” says  Richelieu. “No one paid attention to these issues until a brand like ours comes along, and rightfully so it should be a platform for them to get their message out and they’re doing that. It just hurts today.”

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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