File this one under the general, catchall category of This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things. As if it isn’t hard enough to make a go of it for small businesses in a competitive market these days, a beauty product firm named Shea Moisture has learned a hard lesson about the social justice warrior movement. The company has been around for more than 100 years and has traditionally specialized in hair care products catering to the specific needs of black women. This has proven to be a successful strategy in a niche market and they’ve earned plenty of praise over the years. But all that changed when they dared to run an advertisement which suggested that they also had some products which might be of interest to people with straight hair. In other words… white women. The backlash was immediate and predictable. (Washington Post)
A promotional video posted on its Facebook page provoked backlash Monday for focusing much of the ad on two white women, instead of its predominant customer base. The video centers on a message of “break free from hair hate” and opens with a black woman discussing the challenges of growing up with naturally coily hair. But then it turns to a blonde woman with straight hair. She says there are many days when she stares in the mirror and doesn’t “know what to do” with her hair. Another white woman with barely wavy red hair complains about feeling pressured to die to hair blonde.
Scores of Shea Moisture’s consumers — predominately women of color — felt insulted by the ad, which one writer called a “blatant erasure of African American women who made the brand what it is.” Much like criticism of the phrase “All Lives Matter,” black women felt the ad discredited their community’s needs, needs that most mainstream products in the hair care industry do not meet.
The emerging cacophony was relentless. One writer at BET was cited, saying that, “companies that cater specifically to Black women need to exist — because so many of the products out there do not.” It doesn’t seem to dawn on the author that Shea Moisture still exists, just as it has for the last century. And all of the products specifically geared to black consumers are still there. They were just trying to add a few new customers.
It went on from there at length. Teen Vogue attacked them. Ad Week took the opportunity to advise other companies on how to avoid similarly screwing up. Hordes of angry customers went on Twitter bemoaning the “betrayal” and saying that they would no longer be purchasing these products.
And to drag this “controversy” fully off the reality scale, Shea Moisture almost immediately turned around and apologized, saying they would take down the ad.
— sheamoisture (@SheaMoisture) April 24, 2017
There was no betrayal or commission of some sort of culture crime here. They company sought to potentially expand their market a bit while still focusing on their core audience. But the very suggestion that they might “cater” to any white customers with money to spend on a new hair care product summoned up an immediate call to war. It’s tough enough to remain competitive in the business world, but when your own market base is actively fighting to prevent you from increasing your sales you may as well pack it in. Hopefully Shea can remain in business, even if they are doomed to stay trapped in a significantly small market, but these tactics being employed by social justice warriors with no legitimate complaint are shameful.