A friend of mine on WhatsApp asked me if the action by Clicks to label African hair as “frizzy and dull” and “dry and damaged” was a marketing strategy. Instead of giving her a straight answer, I threw a question back at her and I asked, what makes you think of that? Her response was “how can such a big company release such a piece of communication during the times of the Black Lives Matter movement. It just doesn’t make sense to me”. It happens, I responded. “They will never see my moola again”, she concluded.

How did Clicks find itself in trouble?

Well, it turns out that the campaign was by TRESemmé South Africa. TRESemmé is an American brand of hair care products first manufactured in 1947 by the Godefroy Manufacturing Company in Manhattan, New York City, New York. This is a brand that was quick to post about their support for Blacks Live Matter movement on social media a couple of months ago. This, however, does not mean that Clicks is off the hook. How could they publish such content on the website? I mean, September is a heritage month in South Africa. We should be celebrating our diversity.

TRESemme instagram post
TRESemmé South Africa BLM post on social media

All too familiar

Here’s the thing, it has become a too-familiar sight where brands come up with campaigns that shock the consumer. Dischem did it, as well as Dove and H&M. Like many, my friend was shocked and she just couldn’t help but ask if what Clicks did was intentional. If it was really a PR stunt.

Dischem black mannequin
Dischem marketing campaign aimed at celebrating African beauty

Careless and irresponsible

Global African brand authority, Thebe Ikalafeng, describes the campaign on Clicks’ website simply as “careless and irresponsible”. Indeed they were careless, but I am of the belief that brands always reflect the ideals of the people working on them. In an organisation as large as Clicks and TRESemmé, before a piece of communication goes out to the public there are a couple of people involved, the agency with its army of creatives, copywriters, art directors, and creative directors, and of the client service team. On the brand side, there’s always a team that has to sign off on the work done by the agency. Do you honestly think that no one saw anything wrong with the artwork?

I don’t blame my friend for thinking that it could have been a ‘marketing strategy’ because it looks too deliberate. I mean, how can a brand as big as Clicks publish such a campaign?

The Apology

Too often when a brand comes up with a racist campaign and they caught out. They’d issue statements on social media about how they do not tolerate any form of racism and discrimination blah blah, but when you look at their board directors, there is a lack of diversity. We saw this on #BlackoutTuesday, when brands including TRESmmé took to social media to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. This level of hypocrisy does not help the cause says, Professor Mark Ritson.

Clicks refused to do media interviews on the issue. TRESmmé issued an apology on its website. This is concerning. If they are serious about apologising they should come forward and explain what exactly happened and how they are going to ensure that a ‘mistake’ of this nature does not occur again. An apology online is simply not enough.

So, where to from here?

More often than not when incidents of this nature do occur, we forget and move on too quickly to the next trending topic. The brands never get to account. Consumers must hold Clicks and TRESmmé accountable. Cutting the Clicks Club card is the first step. To get the desired reaction, consumers must hit the brands where it matters the most, the pocket. If a brand does not represent you in a dignified manner do not spend your hard-earned money on it.

I would like to echo Thebe Ikalafeng’s words when he said “young African entrepreneurs must start their own brands and open their own retailers so that they can represent their own people in a correct manner”. South Africa needs more black-owned businesses and I have faith in my generation who are already starting brands that are representative of their people.

To the brands, wake up and smell the coffee. The African consumer is woke. They understand their power, they will not tolerate being disparaged.

Both Clicks and TRESmmé get Slaps!

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Pat Mahlangu

Thokozani Pat Mahlangu is the editor of Pat on Brands and the founder and CEO of Lerato Agency. He is internationally certified digital marketing professional and an Mcom Business Management graduate from the University of Johannesburg.

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