It is no surprise that brands are integrating more social and political themes into their campaign narratives to boost their social responsibility, as millennial audiences lean towards brands associated with causes (Ames, 2015). However, it should not be taken as an isolated social component, rather brands must make sure that their narrative is consistent with what they stand for. Actions speak louder than words. But there are only a selected few who do it right. And although a great amount miss their mark at starting or joining social conversations, their public responses are just as important as their executions.
This week, two campaigns stood out by either integrating the social approach or moving beyond their previously stated conversation. This refers to the most recent campaign “Everybody gets love” by Shea Moisture, combating hair shaming, and “This is your brain on drugs” by PSA (Partnership for a Drug-Free America). Although both are very different in that one serves the commercial sector while the other is a non-profit, they both tap on the topic of race relations but on opposite frameworks. Shea Moisture seeks to equalize both White and Black women for their campaign on hair-shaming, while PSA sets both racial groups apart to raise awareness.
Shea Moisture’s campaign received social media backlash for its equalization of White and Black women struggles with hair. The brand is a hair and skin care company that mainly caters to African American women, serving as one of the very few beauty product company that do so in a market that mainly idolizes the “good hair”. But their latest campaign sought to attract a broader audience and stated that hair struggles are an issue among all women no mater race or ethnicity.
The main criticism for this campaign is that struggles are in fact not the same for White women as they are for Black women, recalling several studies in the US that find that African American women who wear their natural hair are seen as less competent in the workforce while White women struggles never reach the level of racial stereotyping. The company was quick to respond by posting an apology on their Instagram account stating how much “they f-ed up”, and took the opportunity to talk more about the matter. They remained very open to their audience’s comments by concluding that they appreciate all the feedback, negative and all, and that they will remain open to their audience with which they serve.
Despite the brand’s willingness to make it right for their audience, many have remained reluctant to accept the company’s apology mainly because they claim that the brand has grown distant from their core values. Particularly, with the company’s approach to reach a wider audience, while claiming that they will still remain loyal to their African American core audience. However, this move does not fit well to their intended audience who claim the brand is being influenced by corporate interest.
In the non-profit sector, the picture is very different. Non-profits are expected to tap on social issues, it is their purpose. But it is interesting to see the different sides of the racial spectrum, when it comes to portraying society. Partnership for a Drug-Free America, the organization behind one of the most famous campaigns advocating for drug prevention, ran a remake of their 1997 campaign: “This is your brain on drugs” featuring the actress Rachel Leigh Cook. In the original ad, the actress is shown slamming an egg, representing the brain, into a frying pan to expose the fragility of an individual’s brain when exposed to drugs.
The new ad now follows the same cause and effect narrative, but adds the element of racial discrimination where a white egg now resembles a White individual, and a brown egg resembles a Minority. The ad seeks to raise awareness on the judicial mistreatment of Whites and Minorities who get charged with drug crimes, and the consequences that weight more on the latter group.
A main concern in discussing race is that some brands are quick to turn to inclusivity without calling out the imbalance that still subsists over one group. With that, I think that brands should be much more cautious at representing race in society, and overthink their brand strategy to really see if their narrative matches reality, as does the campaign from PSA.
Ames, E. (2015). Millennial demand for corporate social responsibility drives change in brand strategies. Retrieved from https://www.ama.org/publications/MarketingNews/Pages/millennial-demand-for-social-responsibility-changes-brand-strategies.aspx
Reed, S. (2017, April 24). Shea Moisture is the latest company facing backlash for ad. Retrieved from http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/shea-moisture-company-faces-backlash-ad-996902
White, J. (2017, April 24). Rachel Leigh Cook and her frying pan are back to explain the war on drugs. Retrieved from https://pacifictribune.com/2017/04/24/rachael-leigh-cook-psa-war-drugs/