Shea Moisture Loyalists Say: What About Black Buying Power?
PRAD 575- Law & Ethics
Ethnic advertising is one of the most popular tools in cultural product promotion. The interesting thing is, although a company may advertise to “everyone”, the consumers decide who the product is for. By definition, multicultural marketing usually strives to reach a specific ethnicity; primarily, one outside of a country’s majority culture (Webster). There are a number of entities that define a specific culture. Although food, location and clothing are widely explored components of culture, hair texture specifically, is another defining characteristic. Shea Moisture, a natural hair product line has sparked a controversial conversation about inclusion and diversity amongst their leading consumers—black women.
Since the start of the brand’s existence, their Liberian history has penetrated through their “black/brown girl” advertising. The choice to make this brand statement was not only financially beneficial but it created a social connection and loyalty to black women with all hair types. Shea Moisture’s recent advertisement upset black culture due to their inability to include the primary group of women who buy their products. One might argue that their efforts were harmless and befitting for brand expansion. However, excluding your loyal consumers to gain new consumers is not the best route to take.
Point #1: Do not upset loyal/leading consumers
Shea Moisture, a black owned business, has made quite the impression on black women with natural hair. According to Atlanta Black Starblack women have “saved millions of dollars spent on relaxers and weaves as they transition to natural hair care” (Atlanta Black Star). Over the past few years “naturalistas” (women who wear their natural hair) has become very trendy. Natural Hair: Growing Trend in the African American Community sheds light on this cultural switch. The article discusses how women are saying “no” to chemicals, and “yes” to natural hair.
Shea Moisture began their journey with African American women as their target audience. Their advertising was appealing to women who wanted to revert back to their natural hair. Recently, the company chose to diversify their ads by replacing black models with white models. This bias effort outraged black women, while compromising black buying power overall. Globally speaking there is buying power amongst all ethnic backgrounds. However, black buying power in relationship to Shea Moisture’s natural hair line, has been influential to its existence.
The question becomes: when will black women be the focal point…and stay the focal point? At what point can black women feel comfortable enough to trust this brand? Trust between a brand and its consumers is a vital component for financial revenue. It is the brand’s responsibility to reach their target audience while maintaining the company values. Choosing to make a racial statement, in the case of Shea Moisture hurt their brand reputation. In the company’s pursuit to diversify their consumers they excluded the brand loyal consumers—black women.
Point #2 Do not confuse diversity with cultural diversity
Often times “diversity” is a term used loosely by brands and corporations. In some cases, it is an unfair opportunity for the hierarchy/ company to socially polarize specific ethnicities for their own benefit. In relationship to Shea Moisture’s application of the term diversity, it is much more than race. A natural hair line for black women did not attract one type of “naturalista”. It was appealingto them all. Cultural diversity however, (as I would define it), is the presence of one ethnicity but versatility among them. Black Girl Long Hair is a digital platform that explains the diversity of black hair textures. Specifically, the site references the following: Type 4- Kinky Curly, Type 3 Curly-Kinky, Type 3-Curly and Type 2- Wavy (Hair). Although all of the aforementioned hair types are identifiable in various cultures, Shea Moisture’s products were made in the vein of “kinky” hair naturals. Shea Moisture should not be condemned for including white women in their ads; however, they should be accountable for excluding black women.
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”.
Point #3: Give an authentic apology (Be specific)
Consumers do not want a generic apology. An apology is more impactful when the presence of authenticity is clear. Apologizing to all women will not suffice; apologizing to society will not suffice, and apologizing to the “black community” as a whole will not suffice. All of which seem generic and the “safest route”. Black women are outraged and hurt. Finally, they felt like there was a place for them in the beauty isle, and suffered emotionally when Shea Moisture reminded them that idealistic beauty reigns again. The company released a timely statement via their official Facebook page, about the miscommunicated messages in their new advertisement. Specifically, the apology states:
“…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…” (Shea Moisture).
The very reason that black women supported this brand was because of the aforementioned excerpt. So it is very disturbing that Shea Moisture acknowledges this, but failed to keep this continuity in their advertisements. Choosing this language was an untimely acknowledgment of their failure to stay true to their brand values. The nature of an apology between two people usually has the intent to acknowledge wrongdoing so it does not happen again. On the contrary, an apology between a company and consumers can have long lasting effects. It is always the desire for a company to make money not lose money. Although the company apologized to the public, there leading consumers have chosen to boycott this brand.
To Be Sure
To be sure, Shea Moisture could absolutely choose to revamp their target audience by diversifying the “hair models”. However, it will be very difficult to switch gears, primarily because of the financial decrease that will happen. If this hair product line chooses to lose “black money” to appeal to “white money” they will undeniably have to address the racial component to the public. It is no surprise that a black owned company started their brand with black women as the target audience. Generally speaking, a person who has a “kinky” hair texture is the best one to advise others on what works for “kinky” hair women. On the contrary, one might argue that this cultural switch is necessary to expand the clientele. But, should a company do that at the expense of their values and an entire ethnicity? This is a prime example of “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”.
The solution to this problem is simple. Shea Moisture should use this experience as an opportunity to reflect on why and how their success began—black women. Although it will be difficult to regain the trust of black “naturalistas” it is very important that they work diligently to make them feel appreciated and wanted while advertising their products. It is very easy to misconstrue the message black women are sending. We are not upset that Shea Moisture wants to widen their scope, we are upset that they excluded the group of women responsible for their success. Moving forward, the target audience and brand values should always be present. Ultimately, failure to do so hurts both parties: consumers and Shea Moisture. Advertisement for Shea Moisture should always have black representation.
In conclusion, companies should be held responsible for their actions by way of consumer dollars. The best way for Shea Moisture to feel the emotional pain they caused black women is by losing their money. “Black buying power” is a social phrase that circulates around the black community. It is our way of standing in solidarity against discrimination and bias behaviors through a financial statement. We understand the power of money, and have chosen to use this method to see change. Shea Moisture did not consider the absence of black money. Perhaps, this acknowledgment would have resulted in a different advertising statement.
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Satchell, S. (n.d.). Natural Hair: Growing Trend in the African American Community. Retrieved May 08, 2017, from
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