Shea Moisture had, by its own account, “really f-ed this one up.”
In an apology on its Facebook page, Shea Moisture said: "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.
"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."
On Monday, social media exploded as fans of the hair-care brand, which has long catered to African-American women, expressed a shared sense of outrage. The cause of the discontent was a new ad from the company that featured two white women and one woman of color.
The problem was both simple and deceptively complex: As the brand looked to expand its consumer base, its core audience felt “erased” from the ad, which was the first in a new campaign by agency of record VaynerMedia.
“[Shea] started out catering exclusively to women of color, especially with products that work for kinkier, curlier hair types,” said Marie Denee, an influencer and marketing veteran who blogs as The Curvy Fashionista and identifies as a regular user of Shea Moisture products.
“There’s a perception that now that they’re getting investors, they’re leaving us,” Denee added. “We understand that they’re trying to reach other people. However, it could have been done with a little more sensitivity. The original run of the first commercial was very exclusionary.”
Some context: Shea’s origin story focuses heavily on Sierra Leone-born entrepreneur Sophie Tucker. In 2015, owner Richelieu Dennis sold an unspecified portion of its umbrella business, Sundial, to investors at Bain Capital. The brand addressed customers’ concerns about the acquisition in a Facebook post, noting that it was still an independent, family-owned and operated business.
Since the story first blew up on Monday, Shea has responded to criticism by linking back to the statement above, apologizing for what it has called “miscommunications” and clarifying that it has not changed the formula or ingredients in its products.
Shea did a better job of apologizing for its recent debacle than Pepsi or United Airlines, the brand statement still “put the onus on” its audience. “Customers are savvier than we used to be,” she said. “If you want to appeal to white women, just say that. I don’t want to speak for anybody, but there was a tremendous sense of disappointment [over the] gap between the people selling the product and those buying it.”