Black Enterprise has framed the anger one of their recent ads has raised into a valuable lesson that any company that markets to the Black community can learn.
In the ad in question, three women sing the praises of Shea Moisture products, saying that they helped them get over their “hair hate.” Two of the women are white with straight hair, while the third is a light-skinned woman of color with springy, coiled hair. The issue with the ad is that it felt that it didn’t represent the customer base that gave them initial success: Black women with kinky, curly textured hair. One social media comment said that “BW [Black Women] with 4a-c hair got shea moisture to the superbowl.”
In many ways, “Marketing While Black,” meaning Black-owned companies marketing to Black audiences, opens one up to more scrutiny than if a company was owned by white people. Part of this is due to the issues that come when a Black-owned company becomes successful. Sundial Creations, creators of Shea Moisture, ran into this exact issue with their marketing. Richelieu Dennis, the co-founder of Sundial Creations, took nearly 20 years to get to his level of success, getting enough attention that Bain Capital Private Equity took a minority share in it to accelerate growth even further in 2015.
Of course, with investments come requirements, generally, expanding the customer base, so in that sense, featuring people of various ethnicities in ads. Where the issues lie is the optics of the ad, when Black women with kinky and curly hair can sometimes deal with issues of discrimination in the workplace and beyond. In lieu of this, white and lighter-skinned women talking about “hair hate” comes across as tone-deaf.
Sundial Creations may not be only for Black people, but being Black-owned means that they need to be culturally aware of their core demographics, and due to the long-standing relationship, such a faux pas can be a major issue. Granted, it is a balancing act, but what took place here was clearly a mistake, and businesses looking to expand their audience will look to Shea Moisture to know not what to do. With more businesses owned by people of color growing, it will be interesting to see how they navigate this issue.