Joining Pepsi, United Airlines, and Fyre Festival in careless corporate gaffes, SheaMoisture ran an ad last week that led to calls for a boycott of its products. The brand promoted a video on Facebook and Instagram featuring four girls – one African American (with loose curly hair), one blonde, and two with red hair – talking about hair hate and how SheaMoisture products help resolve it. Backlash quickly followed because most of the models used in the ad were not representative of SheaMoisture’s core customer-base. To make matters worse, the ad equated hair woes of women with blonde and red hair to concrete hair struggles African American women face, like the lack of relevant hair products in mainstream stores and possible workplace repercussions for wearing their natural hair. The ad was pulled almost immediately and the CEO has apologized on several media outlets.

African American Hair Care has been one of the fastest growing categories in Beauty. Consumer interest has spiked continuously in the past few years, with searches for natural hair keywords such as “curly kit” growing by 53% since 2014. SheaMoisture has the lead in this category with wider retail distribution than any other brand in the subcategory, as well as ownership of the largest portion of search results for non-branded natural hair-related terms. The brand has leveraged its strong appeal among its core consumers on social media outlets, garnering three times the Instagram engagement of the average brand in L2’s Hair Care Index with frequent posts featuring user-generated content.

While SheaMoisture is one of the dominant players in fast-growing subcategory, its search budget allocation reveals ambitions for a broader audience. L2 research shows that in the first half of March 2017, SheaMoisture was among the top four brands in first page PLA visibility on Google for the most searched unbranded search terms like Conditions, Treatment, and Styling. The brand has succeeded in acquiring significant search real estate; the challenge now lies in expansion without alienating its original customer base.

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