Good Hair vs. Bad Hair- A Look Into Ethnic Advertising
PRAD 575- Law & Ethics
Growing up, I assumed mixed hair was “good hair” and my hair was “bad hair”. Well—less desirable.
I stared at TV ads, took screen shots, and glorified girls who had “wash and go” hair. At 24, I finally understand the influence media played on my inability to see my hair as beautiful—even in its natural state. We are all human, so the presence of comfort is important as it relates to consumer marketing.
Now, in this same vein, ethnic advertising should be a few things: direct, honest, loyal and authentic. The problem is: brands compromise their target audience and their brand values in exchange for more money—more clientele. Basically, they sacrifice brand loyalty for the almighty dollar. Now, allow me to help you visualize this problem in ethnic advertising. Shea Moisture, a black owned beauty line released a controversial advertisement with all white women.
In their pursuit to add diversity to their consumer population, they excluded the Shea Moisture loyalists—black women.
Black women are a group of women who vocalize their views in the “hair hate” conversation. Now first, let’s consider the cultural stance. We have been scrutinized for our “nappy” hair and “kinky” curls for decades. We have been forced to compare our “natural” hair with the “natural” hair of mainstream cultures. Not to mention, our natural hair did not meet the social standard America set.
Of course, I am not a genius, but I am smart enough to know that ignoring your primary population is not the best move to make. Considering, Shea Moisture created this platform for Black women to feel secure, wanted and most importantly beautiful.
Now, I am sure you might ask, why is this a problem? What’s wrong with consumer expansion in ethnic advertising? The answer is simple. The problem is, usually, in order to reach another demographic specifically; the brand will sacrifice the emotions of their leading consumers while compromising their own financial revenue.
Now let’s take a journey through ethnic advertising in today’s society. How many of you watch Scandal? Yes, I thought the reaction would be a good one. And in case you were wondering, I love Scandal but not only because I am a black woman. Of course one may presume I watch the show primarily because I can identify with the leading character. And although that may be true, does this mean a black lead actress cannot cross over to reach a white audience?
No—it does not. At some point we (as a growing society) must make brands accountable. This accountability should be driven by the idea that we are not controlled by public racial antics in media and advertising. But, we are controlled by brand values, reliability, authenticity and truthfulness. According to Nielsen, 73% of non-Hispanic whites and 67% of Hispanics believe that African-Americans influence mainstream culture.If this is true, why are we still alienating cultures to broaden brand appeal? It’s evident that Olivia Pope, undeniably “crossed over” to reach the white audience as a black woman. So how awesome would it be to have seen Shea Moisture take this same approach? Terrinique Pennerman, Founder & CEO of Kurlee Belle says: “In my experience white women are more open to trying a product whether it is targeted to them or not.” This is a key insight to understanding how racial advertising works.
Well, it is no secret that race is a difficult and controversial topic to discuss. However, knowing that is the exact reasonwhy brands should communicate racial/ethnic messages respectfully. Now, the question is: Why did Shea Moisture attempt to “white wash” a “black” product. According to Reaching Black Consumers, “73% 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% agree that discrimination is still part of their day-to-day lives.”
Principle 5 of the eight Principles and Practices presented by the Institute for Advertising Ethics (IAE) states: “Advertisers should treat consumers fairly based on the nature of the audience to whom the ads are directed and the nature of the product or service advertised.” Generally, this principle is applied to advocate for children. However, in this instance principle 5 can be a “golden rule” for ethnic advertising, when a brand chooses to target a new ethnic population. It is extremely important to remember the “fairness” value when advertising products that society has pinpointed as “black” products or “white” products. Due to the “nature” of this product one might presume Shea Moisture products to be for “kinky haired girls only”. Therefore, communicating a message contrary to this should be done with care for the consumers in mind.
So what does this tell us as Communications professionals? First it tells us to consider race in advertising; secondly, it tells us who ethnic advertising affects and how. Shea Moisture was a winning brand because of black women. This was a space that black women felt safe. Specifically in terms of how Black hair is perceived. Now, this doesn’t mean that white women are not welcomed in this space; but it does mean that brands should consider race when they choose to bring another demographic into a consumer population.
News Week sheds light on Shea Moisture’s 2016 campaign: Break the Walls. This campaign was executed with the intent of building confidence of black women while changing the scope of what “good hair” looks like. The company’s choice to humanize the social norm of good hair versus bad hair was an amazing step in the right direction for their strategic ethnic advertising; A direction that aligned black beauty with white beauty while putting the idealistic beauty characteristics to rest. Shea Moisture’s brand has worked extremely hard to change the beauty landscape through the unconventional examples of beauty and “good hair”.
So I’m sure you’re wondering how can we fix this? Well, how can we address this communications problem? The solution is simple. I propose taking the idea of “reaching a second race” initiative off the table. I’m sure you’re wondering what exactly does that mean. Let me explain, if a brand takes a stand to market to a specific demographic of people, (like Shea Moisture did to black women and the kinky haired population) they should stick to that target audience and never stray from this agenda. Now, one might argue that this proposal is silly and restricted. But, I would argue that doing anything other than staying consistent with the public will, be confusing and harmful to the brand and its reputation. Basically, I am proposing that brands find fresh ways to communicate their message.” For example, Shea Moisture branded their company to attract kinky haired girls but their overall goal was to promote beauty.
Now, here’s my personal story…I grew up with both parents in the home; Middle class, multi-cultural resources and a strong sense of family and character. Now I’ll be honest, as an adult, I do not walk into stores to purchase particular brands based solely on their brand values. I just simply buy the brands my parents bought my entire life. Why? Because it’s simple and we as humans appreciate familiarity.
Now, let’s consider my “nappy” hair. The process of buying natural hair products has been nothing but trial and error. But, after using an entire line of Shea Moisture natural hair products, I was sold on the idea of “embracing my natural hair”. Primarily because the brand was an amazing match with my hair texture; Ultimately, I began to feel connected to this beauty line. To me, its representation was more than just hair products; it was a reminder that my hair has a place in the general beauty landscape.
Nappy Hair— a hair texture that still has no place in mainstream society nor has our society evolved to accept kinky curls in a professional realm. A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a white woman in Target, who said: “Wow how did you get your hair like that?” I responded: “like what?” She appeared to have a startled expression. I then began to tell her that this is how my hair dries after a co-wash using Shea Moisture products. She responded saying: “I love the definition of your curls; I think I am going to buy their brand”.
Honestly, I was a little uncomfortable after hearing her initial question. But perhaps, that was my own insecurity about having “kinky curls”. Now, it is apparent to me that this woman in Target, operates in the same vein as Terrinique Pennermanwho said that in her experience white women are more open to try a product even if it is not targeted to them. Our conversation was not about black hair vs. white hair—our conversation was about curls. Just—curls. This real life scenario should be the mantra of ethnic advertising. The message is not about shifting the target audience to a different ethnic population, the message is to simply be consistent. Being consistent with your target audience while finding fresh ways to communicate the same thing.
In Conclusion, consumers will “consume” if brands would just be themselves. Honesty and authenticity are not privy to race. However, those characteristics can be a part of a brand’s reputation. If I had to write a short letter to brands all over the world it would be: “Dear Brands, stay true to your target audience, because all people will respect that. But, do not change your target audience because no one will respect that”.