Brand Fail: Shea Moisture Neglects Its Loyal Brand Community

Brand communities are built on keeping promises. Shea Moisture has been delivering on their promise of “A better way to be beautiful” for over a century to generations of their loyal community. That is, until they really blew it.

The Fail

Last month, Shea Moisture launched an advertising campaign titled: “#EverybodyGetsLove”, with the tagline – “Break free from hair HATE.”. The campaign, which was developed in partnership with Vayner Media, was quick to neglect Shea’s core community – African-American women. The video was launched on April 24th and featured one African-American woman and four Caucasian women. Shea’s loyal users were not impressed. At all.

“Yes, we know good hair is for everyone,” a BET (Black Entertainment Television) writer said, “but that’s why companies, that cater specifically to Black women, need to exist – because so many of the products out there do not.”

The Response

Shea Moisture responded with a heartfelt apology, stating their intention was not to disrespect their brand community. They also went on to try and explain to angry online commenters that they are a black-owned, family business with a diverse group of employees. But their brand community had already been turned off and tuned out.

The question that Shea, and all brands should ask themselves is: Is expanding your audience for a chance to increase market share worth the risk of abandoning the original promise of your brand?

Answer: No

We’ve seen big name brands like Nike, McDonald’s and Apple grow their market share by attractive new and complementary demographic/market segments. So why can’t Shea do the same?

The differences can be found here:

· The Origin Story – Once a brand has solidified its “origin story” for an extended period of time, it challenging to branch out and reach out to different demographics without alienating loyal customers. Shea Moisture’s story was their dedication to providing hair care and beauty products to black women. That’s why Shea Moisture experienced such criticism after launching their controversial campaign, given they had specifically targeted African-American women… since 1912!

· Behavioural Vs. Demographic Differences – Some established global brands can be more flexible with their approach to marketing, while a brand community like Shea must be mindful about its core promise which features particular product attributes for its equally specific demographic.
For example, McDonald’s can play on the behavioural aspects of their audience in a marketing campaign, since they focus on convenience through fast-food, which can be targeted to a vast audience. In contrast, Shea must be more cautious, since their hair care products were more specifically targeted to one clearly defined market.

· The Buy In – Consumers originally buy into your brand because you offer something different than your competitors. In the “#EverybodyGetsLove” campaign, Shea flipped the switch after more than a century of appealing to their core target audience. This resulted in their loyal customers boycotting the brand community. The brand made the attempt to move from focusing and caring for African-American women, to trying to attract and cater to white women in a bold, but certainly not well considered way.

· The Cultural Temperature – Across the United States, African-Americans have been fighting for their voice, for their rights, and for their very lives. So when Shea Moisture released the #EverybodyGetsLove campaign, the first thing those same African-American women saw was a brand that they cherished, turning its back on them to focus on white women. Regardless of intent, the message they sent was, “black women aren’t enough for us, we’re going to bring white women into this too.”

While Shea Moisture insists their intent was not, and would never be, to disrespect their loyal brand community, their campaign approach proved otherwise.

Here are a few tips on how to be proactive with your brand, before launching your next campaign:

Blade’s 3 Steps to Being Proactive in Your Advertising Campaigns

1. KNOW The “Behavioural & Demographic” Insights Of Your Audience
Find out what their passions are and what makes them tick. If you are running a particular campaign, discover key insights through targeted market research. Surveys, focus groups, in-store and exit interviews are excellent ways to discover trends with your consumers and how to best leverage, or avoid them in your go-to-market creative. Testing that creative can also prove useful. Movie producers do this all the time. The key is to listen to the criticism, not ignore it.

2. BALANCE The Approach From Your “Origin Story”
Always remember the origin of your brand narrative even if you plan to expand your market appeal in the future.

3. BUILD On “The Buy In” Of Your Promise
If you suspect, from research, that the “progressive growth” approach is going to compromise the trust you’ve built with your brand community, apply the brakes and re-think the whole initiative.

Final Thoughts…

Shea Moisture truly did f**k up on their strategy and the resulting ad campaign. Whether they were pushed into this idea by their agency or not, the fail falls on the brand stewards within the company itself.

At some point, someone should have stood up in a meeting and asked the question, “What will our existing brand community think?” The reality is that Shea’s brand community was betrayed; and that breach of trust is something that cannot be reversed with an apology on Facebook.

What should Shea Moisture do next?
Chime in and share yours thought in our comments section.


Andrew Basso

As Blade's Sr. Account/Project Manager, Andrew brings a natural desire to learn, with a passion to explore the latest trends in the advertising and marketing industry. His dedication to discover new ways to elevate our processes allows him to thrive when executing various projects for our clients. He lives by the motto: "Patience + Persistence = Success."

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