Since the backlash (which was fast and furious), the CEO, Richelieu Dennis has appeared on several media outlets to explain the intent of the marketing campaign. To their credit, SheaMoisture responded almost immediately to customer complaints on social media stating that:
“…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 should know better.
Thank you all, as always, for the honest and candid feedback…Thank you, #SheaFam, for being there for us, even when we make mistakes.”
However, most of this could have been avoided had the brand done a few things:
BRAND LESSON #1: Never take your most loyal customers for-granted. The reason why there was such a boomerang response from the Black community was because—like it or not—they felt some ownership in the brand having helped to build it to a multi-million dollar international brand. There is nothing wrong with wanting to expand your audience, but there’s a right and a wrong way to do it.
When it comes to a brand making changes in their business that has a broader impact, it’s critical to overcommunicate with your customers so they don’t feel like they’ve just been hit with a bucket of ice cold water when those changes come. As a consumer segment that has, until more recently, had a difficult time finding products in the hair and beauty aisles to suit their unique needs, Black women felt betrayed by a brand they thought had their best interests at heart. They felt taken for-granted when they saw the new commercial(s) which lacked, what they felt, was a representation of who they are. Never mind that there was a whole series of commercials lined up for the campaign which featured a more diverse group of women—you only get one chance to make a first impression. And unfortunately for SheaMoisture, that first impression was incredibly damaging to their brand.
BRAND LESSON #2: When looking to expand your customer base, consider creating a sub-brand or new brand altogether to cater to that audience. I respect Richelieu Dennis’ efforts to integrate the “ethnic” products aisle into the broader “beauty” aisle in retail stores. I get it: he believes that beauty should know no color and that we should all embrace multiculturalism (hence the ill-conceived and ill-received commercial).
However, the reality is, those kind of changes take time. Mainstream brands like Revlon and L’Oreal know this. That’s why they created (or acquired) separate products lines—African Pride and Mizani—for their “ethnic” customers. Their money is still going in the same pot, but they recognized that that particular audience had unique needs and sensibilities they needed to cater to while not alienating their base customer.
BONUS LESSON: When making marketing and communications decisions for your brand, don’t operate in a bubble. The question has been asked repeatedly, “Who gave the green light to that campaign? Was there anyone from the current customer base who gave some insight as to whether or not releasing that first commercial as the forerunner of the campaign was a good idea? If not, why not?”
Despite the fact that SheaMoisture still has a hole to dig out of, they have a large base of customers who continue to patronize their brand. What they’ll need to do in the future is a better job of communicating with their customer base about new changes, as well as highlighting some of the more impactful work they do in the communities in which they do business. Today’s consumer is often more loyal to brands that give back.
The past few months have provided many learning opportunities for brands and businesses on what not to do. As we’ve seen since the advent of the internet and social media, you can’t run or hide when your brand is under attack by the public. And your initial response to the kind of backlash that can occur when you have a very public marketing/PR disaster on your hands better be good. In fact, done right, your response to a crisis can actually set you up for future success (as it did with Steve Harvey and the Miss Universe snafu). Almost always, your ongoing response to the public is going to be more important than the crisis itself.
And that’s what sets successful brands apart from the ones that die out: not the crisis itself—because if you’re in business long enough, you will go through crisis—but how you respond to your stakeholders, customers and the general public after a fall out. How do you show you’ve heard their concerns and are taking real steps to address the issue—and hopefully make sure it never happens again?
Time will tell.
I want to hear what you have to say: What do you think Pepsi/United/Shea Moisture could have done differently to avoid or mitigate their recent PR crises?