5 Lessons We Learned From Shea Moisture

Running a business has its challenges. Every day small businesses make decisions about what to do, how to do it, and what sacrifices to make next? All in hopes that their dreams will result in influence, profit and growth. The biggest challenge in a growing business can simply be that, growing while in many ways remaining the same. Being an expert juggler in attracting new customers while never making your A1’s since day one feel left out is the name of the game, but easier said than done. What is a business to do when their ride or die community feels disrespected, led astray, and completely run amok? No one has an answer or a guide that will stop businesses (cough Pepsi) from making bad decisions, but what happens when it’s one you were really rooting for? Shea Moisture basically shot off their pinkie toe with the release of their most recent commercial ad. While articles went up overnight I sat, reading comments, watching videos, and following hashtags, I love a good giggle. It made me wonder what can be learned from making Shea Moisture moves in business? Can we grow and still stay the same?
The answer is no, you can’t.
Simply put, there will come a time someone will be upset, feel slighted, disrespected, and even stop supporting you. But what can be learned from Shea Moisture being a growing brand that wishes to focus on inclusion? Well it depends on how their decision and how those inclusions make you feel. Out of all of the comments I read, and statues that spanned over 100+threads, what I noticed was how indifferent and contradictory our stance can be with every new opinion added.
Shea Moisture releases new ad– twitter shows they are trending but for bad reasons.
The drag begins..
Shea Moisture releases an apology and pulls ad–apology falls on deaf ears. To be pissed in America is a right and many are not having it.
After reading comments and posts from all sides, it came down to the commercial lacking a representative that looked like the majority of the Shea Moisture community. In addition to it hair texture was also an issue as mixed and Caucasian women lead the conversation in the ad. The Black Girl Magic that could have been never materialized. I’m here to tell you I understand, I get it, I swear that I get it, no diggity no doubt, somethings could have been done differently. Then I paused, got real still and burst out laughing. Why? Because this wasn’t something that was kept a secret, Shea Moisture had been slowly invoking the inclusion crew before the ink dried on their partnership with Bain Capital. Scrolling down SM IG posts I questioned why people felt so betrayed and how they had missed the inclusion train the company was obviously on since 2011.
Richelieu Dennis, CEO & Founder spoke to Naturally Curly on this topic of inclusion in 2015:

“I’ve always said that the only place in America where segregation is still legal is in the beauty aisle,” he says. “I’ve worked to change that with our introduction of the New General Market concept to beauty and retail.”

There it is, Shea Moisture said it about two years ago, but this commercial ad put their words into action. It drove the reality home making black women feel left out of a house our magic helped to build. I’m not here to tell you how you feel, but if you’re going to be mad and want to boycott, my only advice is for our to you listen to the brands you support. Pay attention when they make changes, be around when they release new things, understand why they started, and where they are going. As a consumer we all have to be accountable in where we spend our money because it is obvious we care more now than ever.
I remember requesting to be beside Shea Moisture at my first natural hair expo (Armed Forces Natural Hair & Health Expo). They had two representatives selling the products, one was African-American and the other was a Caucasian woman. I wasn’t surprised by this and have continued to see the expansion of their inclusion initiative. Knowing the power you hold as a consumer allows you to know your decision matters. If you feel the ad and inclusion tactics are far too great an injustice, stop using them and go hard in the paint for another business that makes you feel good and empowered.
One of my favorite ad campaigns from Shea Moisture was Break the Walls (released 2016). The commercial spoke of the “Ethnic” walls that needed to be broken down. Making beauty accessible and creating products for every hair texture, focused on black communities that have traditionally been underserved. I slow clapped throughout this entire commercial. It was the #NaturalHair truth.

As the smoke began to clear on #SHEAGate and the drag is now a slow but consistent push, I’m sharing my 5 lessons we learned from Shea Moisture:
1. Appealing to everyone may result in you appealing to no one. Your core audience and supporters may question where they fit in your plans. You’ve got to over-communicate as you expand if everyone is your model.
2. Have a strategy for what to do when stuff hits the fan. Big business calls this a contingency plan (a Plan B). Backlash, outrage, disappointment, and complaints are a part of this plan. Go into business knowing how you will tackle the issues in business. This plan will come in handy when things turn ugly. It is better to implement a plan already established than to create a plan in the time of needed one.
3. Don’t try to over-explain yourself in an apology. Long drawn out apologies get lost in translation and can come off sounding like an excuse rather than an apology. Direct your customers to a page on your website for more if you need to say more, host a live video chat allowing people to tune in. The first line in the Shea Moisture’s apology gave me the giggles, Wow, so we F’d up. I would have let that line be place on a picture, then pointed to a page that included more details, ijs.
4. Have open dialogue, host a forum that allows people to speak and for you to speak to them. Try your best to provide a place for people to talk and for you to listen. Host a “We F’d Up” Roundtable and take lessons from your community. You may still lose people but you could possible win some over who are on the fence about your brand.
And lastly,
5. You’ll have to keep going even in the mist of the haze. This lesson can be applied to any hardship you face in your life, no matter how hard the blow, you will have to keep going and pray you make it out on the other side, alive and better.

How Shea Moisture climbs out of this and if those outraged in the Shea Moisture community will be there to listen is all up in the air. What I do know is the Shea Moisture Facebook rating dropped to 1.8 stars out of 5 since the ad release. If people stay true to their outrage and disdain for the brand it will show up in next quarter sales. We all follow our own moral compass when it comes to brand emotional outrage, only time will tell if people are little mad or big mad with #SHEAGate.
What is your take on Shea Moisture’s inclusion tactics? Where do you think the company goes from here? Are you seeing more lessons from this you care to share? Drop your comment below, cause I want to know.


Photography by Eye Imagery Studios

  • Evelyne

    Enjoyed seeing/reading from you again. Thanks for sharing your incites.
    I had a similar discussion with my teenager. My personal view is I have no problem with whom they advertise to only when they change the product to accommodate the new market. Make new products for them. Other companies have been advertising to us for generations and getting our energy. I feel flipping the script is fair game. My 2cents.

  • Luvina Ann Norwood-Sabree

    Thanks for sharing!

  • KeeKeeAlNatural

    Hello Diana. I enjoyed reading your post. I was one of the few who was not outraged by Shea Moisture Inclusion Ad. I personally feel like you, I have been watching the brand make it clear that they were growing. I personally do not have a problem with the growth. Shea Moisture also has been a company who has put out ads in the form of series. I believe if everyone would have waited to see more, they would have seen more. Diana, I am personally SICK of the fake outrage happening in the Black Community. Everyone wants to be MAD about something. There has to be a middle ground. Shea Moisture has a right to grow as a brand in the direction they choose. It will be interesting to see all the people who denounced Shea Moisture host events. I wonder who their sponor will be? Which is why I say fake outraged. Folks are outraged until they need something. Amyway. I don’t know……Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts.