Shea Moisture's Pepsi-esque Ad Move - How Did it Even Happen?

Shea Moisture's Pepsi-esque Ad Move - How Did it Even Happen?
Back when it was all love - 3 months after seeing MahoganyCurls (again), and meeting #goalsAF Massy Arias, Shea Moisture would go on to announce their partnership with Bain Capital. Yes, I used to work for NuMe (hangs head in shame)
After yesterday's social media fallout with Shea Moisture (and the subsequent apology from the brand), many of us are left with one question - how?

How did this happen?

How did a company with such a proud Sierra Leonean legacy, led by a Black man, make such a fatal error?

We expect these sort of tone-deaf gaffes from companies like Pepsi or Vogue, who do not pride themselves on or even attempt to assert that their primary demographic is Black women.

But Shea Moisture?

The company who literally built their brand to cater to the unique needs of Black women, because we were being ignored by beauty conglomerates like Unilever, P&G, and L'Oreal?

How, Sway?

Sway don't got the answers - but LinkedIn does.

According to articles on CNNMoney, AdAge, FastCompany, and more VaynerMedia was "responsible" for bringing this campaign to life. Yes. Y'alls beloved Gary Vee & Co. I'm sure Gary has hurled enough expletives to inspire you to action - so I'll save my thoughts on his cuss & hustle methodology for another time.

But a quick LinkedIn search reveals exactly who was at the table, who made the decisions, and how Shea Moisture sent themselves to the clearance bin over yesterday's ad. And while I'm not going to blast people's names and faces across my blog (I ain't TheShadeRoom), I will say this:

Shea Moisture/Sundial Brands

  • VP of Brand Strategy - white woman
  • Innovation Marketing Manager - white woman
  • Brand Strategy & Innovation - white woman
  • Social Media Manager - white woman
  • Associate Communications/PR Manager - white woman
As of this afternoon (after this post was published), the majority of the folks who work for Shea Moisture/Sundial Brands have removed their photos from their LinkedIn profiles. When you look them up, a number of Black faces and grey circles populate. But in the age of screenshots, it's a lil' too late...

  • VP Social/Digital Strategy - white woman
  • Director of Innovations - white man
  • Digital & Social Media Strategy - white woman
  • Senior Copywriters - white women & men + 1 Latinx
  • Senior Digital Media Planner - white man
So basically, you take your brand that was built for and by Black women. And you fill the seats that create and deliver content meant interact with your core demographic - with nobody that remotely resembles said demographic.

Those key players then partner with a digital agency, in which those key players likely concepted, organized, and executed yesterday's Pepsi 2.0 campaign, which was reviewed, tweaked, and eventually approved by that first group of key players. This process went back and forth, likely through several rounds of meetings and editing sessions, in an incredibly homogeneous incubator of "creativity" and "digital savvy". I can imagine tons of high-fives, pats on the backs, fist bumps, and a cringeworthy number of "dabs".

In moments like this, it doesn't matter that the CEO of Shea Moisture/Sundial is Richielou Dennis, a Black man. It doesn't even matter that the company prides itself on being majority family owned. 

Because when you deliver content like you did yesterday, it shows who's making the decisions around the table. Better yet, it shows who's not present in those meetings and creative briefings. I don't want this to be the case, but this all feels like Carol's Daughter deja-vu. 

If you recall from this articleLisa Price was not the CEO of Carol's Daughter at the time of sale to L'Oreal. Or owner, for that matter. Carol's Daughter Holdings, LLC (the parent company) was owned by Pegasus Capital Advisors, L.P. at the time of sale. 

While Dennis and Shea Moisture insist they've learned from what happened in the Carol's Daughter fallout, the road they're traveling looks mighty familiar. A brand of products formerly marketed to only Black women now determined to appeal to a broader base, virtually abandoning the clientele that built the foundation that the business stands on.

Droves of Black women pumped the brakes on their support of Carol's Daughter, feeling abandoned and maligned by the company's change in marketing imagery and formulas. There are already murmurs from Shea Moisture's comment sections to Lipstick Alley that some of the formulas of their original products have changed, are thinner, and no longer work for coarser hair.

I can't call it one way or the other, because I stopped trying to keep up with Shea Moisture's products a long time ago.

While Shea Moisture maintains that Bain's investment is a minority percentage, a glimpse into Sundial's Glassdoor reviews/company profile paints a different picture (just google it). In the case of Carol's Daughter, Lisa Price was the face of the brand, with no control over its direction. With Shea Moisture's Black CEO and proud "minority ownership", it's about who they've chosen to outsource their decision making to.

At this point, it doesn't matter that Shea Moisture is repped by influencers like MahoganyCurls, Jenell B. Stewart, and Massy Arias (who I'm 137% sure have all been told to not directly address the matter with their audiences). There are more, I'm sure - but these are the only 3 I follow. Regardless of how well represented Black women may be on Shea Moisture's influencer roster, I care even more about how we're represented at the table - behind the scenes, in those higher-up meetings, and creative sessions. The face of the company doesn't mean a damn thing if the company as a whole aims to defines its success by its value to the mainstream.

How many times do we have to scream - REPRESENTATION MATTERS?!

Apparently, yesterday's video was a part of a larger #EverybodyGetsLove campaign. That's cool and all, but I have questions. Why in these series of videos, is the same clip of Jenell B. Stewart being recycled? Why is she the only darker-skinned Black woman featured? Were all the other kinky-haired influencers with deep complexions busy that day?

See Video 1
See Video 2
See Video 3

Why in a series of videos from a company built for Black women, and zealously supported by the same, has the Black woman become tokenized? Anybody else think that's crazy - or is it just me?

I've read all the articles, and seen the apology circuit that Sundial's PR team has sent Richielou Dennis on. An apology is fine (not really), but responsibility is shared. Is Gary Vaynerchuk going to fess up and issue a statement, too (like he did back in 2016 for some sexist ish)? Will the Sundial team rally behind their CEO and say, "hey, this is also our fault?"

Or are they gonna stand there and watch as the captain goes down with his ship?

I want Richielou Dennis to win. I want Black businesses to win. But not at the expense of the people who put them in the position to win in the first place. THAT is a recipe for failure.

Aiight y'all, I'm done talking Shea Moisture. After this post, it's back to the regularly scheduled programming. :)

Looking for Black owned brands to support? You're in the RIGHT PLACE! The Mane Objective has a loooooong history of supporting Black owned brands - before it became trendy or cool. Here's the 411:

The sales are off, but this is a DEEEEEP list of Black owned brands!

Let chat in the comment section about this one, fam. I welcome all sides and all opinions but I have one rule - keep it respectful. Leggoooooo!


  1. This article is just... yes! Unfortunately, I caught wind of the debacle late in the day yesterday and mommying has been keeping me from my laptop. Though bloggers like you and Lisa JF have been doing an amazing job covering this, I think I need to add my two cents with a blog post. I too learned about the folks behind the scenes earlier today and it was truly disappointing. Not one brown face! I was trying to be somewhat (key word) understanding at the outset but the more I learn, the messier it gets! It's gonna be a long road to recovery for SM.

  2. ...and I said the same thing about Jenell's clip.

  3. Like I don't even think SM is available in Sierra lione anyways? Black grandma making shea butter don't matter anymore.

    And don't get me started on SM aligning with that black woman basher on Twitter during the backlash.

    1. Shea moisture has not even launched in Ghana, which is one of the places where they source their beloved fair trade Shea butter. Like how are you giving back if you're not making your product available in Ghana??
      I know it's been launched in Nigeria, but really, it's their old products that were made famous over the years by our sisters in the US of A - they've been reformulated and watered down and the new formulas don't even work as well as the old!
      I'm really disappointed in Shea Moisture

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Loved your first article and this is a great followup. Also throwing in how the marketing and creative team profile pics on LinkedIn are mysteriously missing prompted me to tweet for purposefully history and references. You hit the hammer on the nail with this post. And I'm like you go, they have way too many products to keep up with. Every week it's something new!

  5. Crazy, it's so disrespectful to just delete their pics rather than provide better representation. Either he has no control at the company or he doesn't care about black people. Sadly I think it's both.

  6. GIRL.... to add fuel to this fire, this morning, Richelieu was on News One Now with Roland Martin and had the nerve to say that no one approved the ad?!?!? REALLY homeboy? You're going to insult our intelligence with a straight face and say no one approved the "mini ad" and only the 24 stories as whole were approved. I'm not going for it. Then he said the consumers want to erase SM 27 years of history over 1 mistake. MY GUY, just like SM tried to erase black women's 27 years of patronage in the same commercial??? Then he had the audacity to say that SM opened the doors for the other hair companies "for us". That may be true, but SM needs to act accordingly meaning we have other choices for great hair care so they should respect our place as their core consumer. Their PR and marketing team need to be fired and they need to own their mistake and learn from it.

  7. thank you for posting the videos. SM could only find 1 dark skin natural for this "campaign" and people had the nerve to defend the removed ad saying it was part of a series. the series only further proved our point that the backbone of the company was hardly represented. SM only makes more mistakes as they try to clean up their mess and it's pathetic. and if I knew people would be removing their LinkedIn photos, I would have taken full desktop screenshots of EVERYONE when I looked up sundial brands on Monday. Not that I would post it cuz apparently employees are starting to receive threats (don't stoop that low people) but it's always good to keep receipts...I'm not even gonna start on that tired, casual apology but SM needs to be better because we all wanted to see that company win. people need to understand that it's deeper than a bottle of shampoo. this was hurtful.

  8. Great article. Check out my tee-shirt. Show 'em how it's done on the fashion side too!

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