'We really f-ed this one up': Inside Shea Moisture's response to 'whitewashing' accusations

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Latraviette Smith-Wilson, SVP of communications at Shea Moisture parent Sundial Brands, shared the steps her company has been taking since the social media backlash against its "hair hate" ad ignited on Monday.

Shea Moisture is working to show customers it never intended to make anyone feel disrespected as accusations of "whitewashing" boil on social media in response to its recent ad.

Shea Moisture, owned by Sundial Brands, released the ad last Thursday on Facebook as part of a campaign called #EveryBodyGetsLove. The ad showed white women, and just one woman of color, discussing how Shea Moisture is the only product they use to deal with their "hair hate."

VaynerMedia worked on the ad.

On Monday, the brand, which has a primarily African-American customer base, faced severe backlash on social media from people who found the ad insensitive. Some publications, such as Racked, questioned whether it was selling out its core black customer.

Latraviette Smith-Wilson, SVP of communications at Sundial, said her team flagged the complaints at 11 a.m. EST on Monday. Its in-house comms team responded to the situation to ensure Shea Moisture was part of the conversation. It has not been supported by an outside PR agency.

Smith-Wilson noted Shea wanted to tell its story and engage "in a real way" with people about their concerns.

"We want our community to understand that in no way did we ever intend to make anyone feel disrespected or [minimize their experience]," she explained. "As importantly, we want them to know that we fully acknowledge that our execution on this piece was flawed."

Shea is aware of the importance of inclusion and is an industry leader in championing those who have been most underserved in the beauty industry, Smith-Wilson added.

"Unfortunately, the Facebook ad at the center of this reaction was just one segment of a larger set of videos that are slated to be part of a docu-ad showing there is no one standard of beauty," she explained.

Shea depicted the hurdles women face defining their own beauty, the depth and breadth of those challenges, and the freedom that comes with self-expression, Smith-Wilson said.

On Monday afternoon, Shea Moisture posted a long statement on its Facebook and Twitter accounts, beginning with the candid line, "Wow, okay—so guys, listen, we really f-ed this one up." The brand said in the statement that it is pulling the ad immediately because the spot doesn’t represent what it wants to communicate.

Facebook users’ comments in response to the apology show it didn’t cut the mustard with all social media users, with some comparing the ad to Pepsi’s wildly controversial spot featuring Kendall Jenner.

Shea has been directly responding to Facebook and Twitter users’ comments.

The brand has been getting its response out via its owned social platforms, media, employees, and influencers. It will continue to engage users as long as the conversation is happening.

"We operate in a real-world, real-time environment, and we don’t have the option of choosing when to turn it off," she said. "We welcome that level of dialogue, understanding, and engagement, and we’re constantly listening to our consumer community, which means we don’t shy away."

Sundial Brands CEO and founder Richelieu Dennis said last August that the company wants to improve the shopping experience for all customers and make it more inclusive, rather than tailored to one subset.

Although the company wants to expand its customer base, Dennis told CNNMoney this week that women of color continue to be the company's focus.

"Our job is to make sure they understand that we're still here for them," Dennis said, noting that black women have the "least amount of products in the marketplace for them."

In 2015, Bain Capital took a minority stake in Sundial, a $200 million personal-care products company.

This story first appeared in PR Week.