Lately, companies and big brands have (attempted) apologizing for their marketing “mishaps”. No, you’re not the only one, Pepsi. Unfortunately. These mistakes remind us of a schoolyard lesson that needs to be retaught: how to properly apologize.

Recently, the natural hair care industry was shaken up due to Shea Moisture’s failure to not only misunderstand their audience, but to completely disregard them.

For background, Shea Moisture is a natural, certified organic, and ethically sourced skin and hair care line. They were a Black family-owned business that originated in 1992, then in 2015 Shea Moisture partnered with Bain Investments by selling a minority stake in the company. Long story short, the face and demographic of the company changed.

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Here is an example of what Shea Moisture used to promote:

 

And here is the new direction that has gotten a lot of backlash:

 

Can you spot the difference?

Due to the uproar over Shea Moisture’s new direction, Shea put up a public apology:

“Wow, okay – so guys, listen, we really f-ed this one up… So, the feedback we are seeing here brings to light a very important point. While this campaign included several different videos showing different ethnicities and hair types to demonstrate the breadth and depth of each individual’s hair journey, we must absolutely ensure moving forward that our community is well-represented in each one so that the women who have led this movement never feel that their hair journey is minimized in any way. We are keenly aware of the journey that WOC face – and our work will continue to serve as the inspiration for work like the Perception Institute’s Good Hair Study/Implicit Association Test that suggests that a majority of people, regardless of race and gender, hold some bias towards women of color based on their textured or natural hair. So, you’re right. We are different – and we should know better. 
Thank you all, as always, for the honest and candid feedback. We hear you. We’re listening. We appreciate you. We count on you. And we’re always here for you. Thank you, #SheaFam, for being there for us, even when we make mistakes. Here’s to growing and building together…”

The only thing missing was a #sorrynotsorry. The apology’s tone exposed the root offense of Shea Moisture’s advertisement. The exclusion of their primary audience was the result of a cardinal advertising offense: being disingenuous. Saying sorry wasn’t (and isn’t) the same as sincerely being sorry. They didn’t offend WOC, they offended BLACK women. For a brand that was celebrating Queens with her Crown not even a week before, they should’ve been able to speak sincerely towards their black customers. If they had been sincere, they would’ve been in a better position to appease and win back their loyal customers.

The face of America is rapidly changing into a richly diverse one.  America’s patience for insensitive media is wearing thin, and the public is starting to hold companies to a higher standard. It’s 2017, and if you don’t have anything nice to show or say, stay silent or at least do some A/B testing.

Crafting the perfect response is not the easiest thing, but it is necessary to acknowledge all wrongdoing sooner or later. For example, in 2016, AirBnB users took to Twitter to voice the numerous discriminatory experiences they’ve had when using AirBNB, which popularized hashtags like #AirBnBWhileBlack. Some hosts were screening out people based on their perceived race, lifestyle, and religion. AirBnB took a full year to acknowledge the concerns raised by their customers.

“We have been slow to address these problems, and for this I am sorry.” – Brian Chesky, Airbnb co-founder and CEO

However, within that year they created a full diversity roll out that held them accountable to future users. They created a feature to address the initial problem called Instant Books, which allowed users to immediately book a room without any discretion from the host. Then to reinforce their promise of promoting tolerance and acceptance, they created marketing ads to introduce their Community Commitment. Finally, the cherry on the apology sundae was strengthening their customer service capacity to find and address major issues like this faster.

In this mini-series, we want to start a conversation around the recurring issue of exclusion and representation. We’ll be exploring various ways that the tech-marketing intersection has failed to progress and diversify, and highlight the players that are making the right moves forward. If you’re still wondering, “how did this whole thing happen and not end up in my newsfeed?” Don’t worry, we’ll be covering racial social affinity spaces too.

Stay Woke, Friends.

Special thanks to Ryan Kim for making this piece possible.