Unilever's SheaMoisture showcases Black women's diversity and its efforts to help their businesses
Unilever’s SheaMoisture is launching its first new campaign in more than two years and its first under new CEO Cara Sabin from two new shops—Omnicom’s BBDO and Black-owned Joy Collective.
That’s a lot of new for a brand that’s also hoping people remember some of what’s older—including that SheaMoisture was Black-founded and continues to be Black-led.
The “It Comes Naturally” campaign aims to capture the diversity of the Black women who are SheaMoisture’s customers and point out that the brand helps support businesses owned by Black women. It comes after racial justice protests that brought new attention to which brands marketed to Black people are actually Black-owned. It is also being launched amid the pandemic and the economic fallout from it that hit Black women disproportionately hard.
“This is a year where many Black women have felt not seen, not heard or appreciated,” Sabin says. “So we really thought it was important to assemble a group of creatives both behind the scene and at the forefront to tell our story, which is a story many Black women share of resilience and beauty and fortitude.”
Since 2017, SheaMoisture has been owned by publicly held Anglo-Dutch giant Unilever, which at the time of the deal helped set up a $100 million fund to support Black entrepreneurs. The new campaign points out that brand proceeds support that effort.
“Your purchase helps invest in the dreams of Black-women entrepreneurs,” the inaugural ad notes. Six Black female artists–Monica Ahanonu, Rachelle Baker, Bisa Butler, Alexis Eke, Linda Mawala, and Reyna Noriega–were commissioned to create the campaign, which will continue on TV, digital and organic social into next year.
June protests spurred social media posts pointing out that SheaMoisture is among leading ethnic beauty brands that aren’t Black-owned. Sabin responded on Instagram at the time: “I am a Black CEO, in White corporate America, leading a brand that exists to serve our Black consumer.”
She notes in an interview that a majority of SheaMoisture employees and the Sundial Brands unit it’s part of are also people of color. Her boss, Esi Eggleston Bracey, Unilever executive VP and chief operating officer of beauty and personal care, also is a Black woman.
Sabin was surprised when the ownership issue came up, “but then quickly understood why SheaMoisture was being called out,” she says. “We never have purported to be Black-owned. We were Black-owned, and Black-founded. We’re still Black-led. And we really focus on what is the impact we can make on the Black community.”
Richelieu Dennis, the Black Sundial and SheaMoisture founder who last year stepped down from the CEO role, continues to work with the Unilever unit as head of a Social Mission Board. (He faced controversy this summer, after leaving the Sundial CEO role, over his role as owner of publisher Essence Ventures. He stepped down from day-to-day leadership of Essence after an anonymous letter posted on Medium in June accused him of overseeing a workplace with "pay inequity, sexual harassment, corporate bullying, intimidation, colorism and classism.")
L’Oreal also has pointed out recently that Lisa Price, the Black founder of the Carol’s Daughter brand it acquired in 2014, continues to run that business. And Procter & Gamble Co. Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard points out that the “Black-operated” brands P&G owns, including Walker & Co.’s Bevel and Form, continue with leadership of Black founder Tristan Walker and other Black executives.
For the new campaign, SheaMoisture made sure the agency team included a Black-owned agency in Joy Collective, and that the BBDO team was diverse, including leadership by BBDO, New York Senior VP Khari Mpagazehe.
Under Dennis, SheaMoisture leaned on prominent white-owned agencies for key work, including Droga5 for a 2016 campaign and VaynerMedia for a 2017 social-media effort that positioned the brand as being for white women too and was quickly yanked amid a social media uproar.
“We really believe in the power of collaboration, and we wanted to assemble a diverse and multicultural team and found that hybrid approach brought out the best creative thinking,” Sabin says.
In an interview, Mpagazehe and Joy Collective senior VP of Strategy and Client Services Camille Blanchard described the arrangement as a truly equal partnership. “We co-create, we co-strategize, we co-produce to make sure we work as one agency team,” Mpagazehe says.
“Time and time again Black women have reimagined and redefined beauty, and yet her hair, her clothing style, things that were once looked down upon, they’re now often appropriated and co-opted,” she says. “This is an opportunity for SheaMoisture as a brand to not only give credit where credit is due, but also pour back into her dreams.”
The idea, Blanchard says, was to portray Black women’s strength, resiliency and “ability to constantly reinvent themselves, start businesses, build families and communities, to be that pillar and to lift as she rises.”