Irked by the offensive description of its advertising campaign portraying people with black hair as dull and damaged, South Africa’s opposition party, Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF), staged a protest against a blatantly racist hair product campaign hosted on the Clicks website.
According to iol.co.za, Clicks faced a massive backlash and promptly withdrew the advert, apologising unreservedly while TRESemmé, the American brand responsible for the advert, has also apologised.
However, the question remains how such an advertisement – which referred to images of a black woman’s hair as “dry and damaged” or “frizzy and dull” hair, while white woman’s hair was “fine”, “flat” or “normal” – passed muster with Clicks’s marketing team.
The company failed to get an interdict against the EFF’s plan to picket, and there were reports of damage and intimidation of staff which is unfortunate. Protest action by the EFF was reported at 425 Clicks stores across the country yesterday.
Racial profiling and stereotyping in advert storylines is commonplace, and this is certainly not the first time such tropes have been used to sell products in South Africa.
Readers will recall the EFF protests in 2018 over H&M’s “coolest monkey in the jungle” sweatshirt and the year before when Dove had a bizarre campaign showing a black woman morphing into a white one.
As soon as they are caught out the companies involved will tell you how they are against all forms of racism and discrimination, yet a whole chain of people has to see and approve these offensive adverts prior to their publication.
Those responsible for the hair advert may have been suspended by Clicks but why this fiasco hurts so much is that we are dealing with a local health and beauty retail and pharmacy chain that one would expect it to know its clientele and their touchpoints.
Also, seen against the context of the politically charged subject of hair – as witnessed in the natural hair protests in schools – was there really nobody in management who realised this ad was so offensive?
Ironically, just days ago Clicks had featured as a top performer in the 2020 Brandz survey of South Africa’s “most valuable brands”, with the adjunct that brands in this time of challenge must “be responsible and contribute to society”.
Sadly, it has failed dismally there.