Fresh off of being accused of co-opting the natural hair movement to market their products to a white market, Shea Moisture is facing fresh accusations of plagiarism and intellectual theft. The brand’s marketing seems to be degrading fast and I’ll be honest – I saw this coming from a mile away.
When Shea Moisture sold a large stake of their company to Bain Capital in 2015, it left many naturals concerned, and with good reason. Over the years, the company had developed a strong cult following due to their ability to assess the needs of natural hair and represent all types of black women in their marketing, something that no brand sold at the drugstore at a reasonable price was doing at the time.
I started using the brand in 2009 (they were founded in 1991), before they were sold in Walgreens and Target and I was ecstatic at how the brand grew into a household name. Their following became SO loyal that I recall doing a review of their first Curling Souffle (gel), and when I didn’t like it, some accused me of bashing a black-owned brand and being catty, even though in the video I blatantly expressed my love for the brand and recommended my favorite products instead.
Their Purification Masque and Coconut Curl & Style Milk were two of the best products I tried for my natural hair, and then they changed the ingredients to the milk and discontinued the masque in stores in 2015. My skepticism started then because I didn’t understand why they would remove such a beloved product.
We’ve been here before. While I encourage indie black-owned brands to grow, too many times we see them alienate their core audience in lieu of “expanding their demographic.” Predictably the quality of the products suffer, and the cringe-inducing ‘black-lite’ or ‘not black at all’ marketing campaigns begin. Once Bain came into the picture, I started seeing subtle changes at Shea Moisture, like an increase in products released with very little change to the ingredients when previously, their lines seemed well thought out and catered to different hair textures (fine, coarse, etc.)
I wasn’t impressed by their “Break the Walls” campaign released in 2016. Regardless of how many of us felt about using the products we used growing up, I dislike it when beauty brands evoke strong emotions of insecurity in us to sell products. To me, it was nothing more than an attempt for them to get in the larger haircare aisle and attract more (read, white) customers.
My thoughts were reaffirmed earlier this year when they released their new campaign with a “hair hate” video featuring a biracial woman with loose curls, a blonde woman, and a woman with red hair. You can view my thoughts about that debacle below. Diversity is one thing, but the blatant alienation of their original core audience was a slap in the face. After this, many women vowed to stop buying the brand.
And now, they have turned to pandering to win back their core audience with their new men’s line, which features several attractive men flaunting full beards courtesy of Shea Moisture’s products.
— SheaMoisture (@SheaMoisture) November 1, 2017
I’m not falling for it. It’s nothing more than a feeble attempt to convince black women to buy their new line for our men during the holidays. After all, I’m sure there are a lot of us who put our significant others onto the brand in the first place. I know I did. And as it turns out, part of the creative vision behind the series of ads seems to have been stolen from another creative, Barry Gordy, who started a photo series called “Beards In Color” with Nyasia Sylvester.
— Barry Gordy (@branfire) November 2, 2017
So this is where we are now. Not only are they on the “dismiss, then pander” parade, but also taking ideas from indie black creatives. All of these instances are blatant evidence of “when going corporate goes wrong.” While I still wish them well, it’s not a ride that I want to be on. I hope that they can turn around their marketing and business practices, but they may be too far gone. RIP, Shea Moisture Shea Butter Leave-In in the white bottle at the beauty supply store.
What do you think of Shea Moisture’s latest ad series?