Cultural IQ: Shea Moisture, Total Market & How Brands Can #DoBetter

Pick your medium: Watch the video, or read the post.

Let’s talk about the blind spots of Total Market, Shea Moisture’s #HairHate campaign, and what’s next for brands in digital media.

In late April Shea Moisture dropped an advertising spot that was a part of their #HairHate campaign. As is the nature of digital media, particularly when the tactic is not engaged with synergy and nuance — it can become a bit detached from it’s intended meaning. I won’t dive to deep into the content of the ad, because you can read some awesome breakdowns here and here. Instead, I want to speak about the increasing trend towards Total Market advertising; and how I think the Shea Moisture brand is somewhat a victim of the Total Market glamour. No not “Glamour” like fashion or the magazine; I mean THE glamour. Glamour originally was a term applied to a magical-occult spell that was cast on somebody to make them see something the spell-caster wished them to see, when in fact it was not what it seemed to be. Total Market casts it’s spell and it is mighty enticing & bewitching to clients who want to try the most effective (read: cost efficient) ways to reach their consumer markets.

I am a Cultural Strategist. I disrupt hidden bias, to help brands achieve cultural mindfulness.

What does that mean — I help marketers of all races, creeds and backgrounds assess their cultural blind spots. Basically, I help brands to not inadvertently be prejudiced at best, and at worst — racist.

Before we get too far along — let’s get some primary internet myths out the way:

Outrage: Shea Moisture only trying to talk to Becky with the good hair now?!?

False: Shea Moisture did appeal to a broader — read: White — target segment for the #HairHate campaign. But this is not the only video they released. One of the spots released featured African-American women’s perspectives close to a month before the currently embattled #HairHate video.

Outrage: Shea Moisture is owned by Mitt Romney and other white people — burn themmmm!!!!!

Not quite true: Listen… Mittens has not been a part of Bain Capital for a long time. Former Gov. Deval Patrick was instrumental in bringing Shea Moisture’s parent brand — Sundial to Bain Capital. That was a major coup, and in my opinion more Black owned businesses need this type of support.

Outrage: Shea Moisture only hire white women that’s why their social media isn’t on point.

Not quite true: Yes, Shea Moisture does have a number of White women in various marketing positions — but as we all know gossip and bullshit travel faster and more attractively than the truth online, and LinkedIn profile shots gave this one a lot of credence. However, in actuality there are in fact a number of Black women who also work behind the scenes on the brand.

Ok now that we’ve gotten that out the way — let’s look at the real issues here:

One. VaynerMedia, helmed by Gary Vaynerchuk was the agency responsible for the ad execution, to which we can assume to be Shea Moisture’s marketing brief and final sign off. Shea Moisture has since stated they had not seen the final execution.

You didn’t see the final ad? Where they do that at?

Two. Let me tell Advertisers something far and wide: Shea Moisture, Nivea and Pepsi’s recent missteps shall be your guide — when speaking to multicultural audiences — TOTAL MARKET is not your friend.

Shea moisture has a history of social media missteps that predate any perceived whitewashing via their lucrative VC investments. They have always considered their products to be for everyone. Even Nubian heritage, which was one of the first fair trade brands to make it to Whole Foods — was not where POCs were primarily buying the products.

What is sorely wrong about the #HairHate campaign is that is has absolutely no synergy. It seems like two completely separate spots that not only speak to different target segments, but effectively OTHERS black women — their core demographic. That is a no, no, no, no, no…. Word to Georgina.

Advertisers — I beg you to come out of the sunken place.

Brands can speak to multiple targets at once — effectively. I’ve been in advertising for 15 years — at top General Market and Multicultural shops. If you’re good at your job, you do that very thing all the time.

The nature of digital almost always divorces your marketing message from it’s original intent. Which is why you need a cohesive digital & social content strategy. A lot of the marketing pain associate with these spots could have been alleviated by a number of minor creative tweaks and a better laid out social and digital implementation.

Unpopular opinion approaching…

Let’s talk about the agency’s role in this. I know a lot of people L O V E Gary “Gary Vee” Vaynerchuk. I’m going to go on record, that I am not one of those people. His entire schtick — and trust me, it is definitely a role that he’s playing — reeks of privilege. So when you have individuals who consistently, ardently and LOUDLY ape black culture and black cool for views — — but don’t really have any affinity or investment in the CULTURE — Your result are agencies that have poor multicultural representation, and questionable [if any] diversity.

I can understand Shea Moisture wanting to cross the aisle, and I definitely respect the REAL HUSTLE that it took to go from street cart community sales to Whole Foods and big box drugstore retailers. But brands cannot do that effectively if they rely on commercial spots and social media content that clearly display a lack of understanding of cultural bias, cultural nuance, and honestly Black culture in general. It’s regressive, offensive, feels wildly opportunistic — and above all it’s alienating to your core.

If your agency can’t guide you on that — then maybe you’ve picked the wrong agency — and definitely have your own cultural blindspots to tend to as well.

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Denitria Lewis is the Founder of The DNYREE Group, a Cultural Marketing & Media Consulting Firm. For over a decade, Denitria has been a resourceful and innovative brand marketer with skills that have been sought after by top firms in NYC, Chicago, LA, San Francisco and Atlanta.

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