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TRESemmé South Africa marketing campaign demonstrates the need for vigilance to uproot unconscious bias and discrimination in advertising (Unstereotype Alliance)

15 September 2020 – The Unstereotype Alliance South Africa National Chapter is deeply disappointed in the recent images provided by TRESemmé for Clicks’ digital platforms which depict black women’s hair as “dry” and “damaged” and white hair as “fine” and “normal”.

The use of these polarising descriptors and the way the images were placed portrays a severe lack of knowledge and appreciation of diversity and inclusivity and promotes racist stereotypes about hair. These seemingly subliminal messages lessen and marginalise black women and further entrench harmful stereotypes that often prevent people of colour from freely embracing their physical attributes.

The Unstereotype Alliance (UA) – a thought and action platform convened by UN Women – is committed to dismantling unconscious biases and breaking all forms of harmful and hurtful stereotypes in media and advertising content. Unilever is a member of the Unstereotype Alliance and has made a commitment to the core principles of the alliance which include directly addressing unconscious bias and fostering an unstereotyped culture. This includes challenging advertising agencies to deliver unstereotyped content, ensuring diverse teams are involved in the production of all forms of marketing communication, holding itself accountable to these standards but more importantly, ensuring rigorous checks and balances in how agencies are briefed, how the creative process evolves and final approval of work before it goes public.

This unfortunate and offensive use of imagery has shown that adherence to unstereotyping firstly requires more extensive work to change the systemic lack of representation and inclusivity in the broader marketing sphere on both client and agency side. . Across organisations – from both the brand and advertising agency – all involved must understand and adhere to principles of diversity and inclusion. Secondly, it requires vigilance and proactive measures at all levels so that content like the TRESemmé campaign are flagged and addressed before release.

Stereotypes whether used consciously or unconsciously feed into the discrimination that drives inequality. Unilever has been at the fore of creating adverts that challenge negative stereotypes and inequality such as the Joko Tea #EndDomesticSilence campaign and the Dove #ShowUS campaign which really showed how we can shatter beauty stereotypes and empower girls and women no matter what they look like.

The Unstereotype Alliance members hold themselves accountable, both in South Africa and around the world, to exercise vigilance in their marketing and advertising including tough oversight of agency approvals and actively accelerating equality whether by ensuring diversity in senior leadership – including ensuring black women are at the decision-making table – and within business units as well as the creative talent used to execute campaigns. In addition, the members of the Alliance call on all those working in the marketing and communications space to do likewise, and work on outreach and advocacy to that end.

The global awareness of racial and gender stereotypes means that brands will be scrutinised more than ever and prejudice will no longer be tolerated. We need corporates to rise to the challenge, making the necessary adjustments to meet these standards.

We welcome Unilever’s and Clicks’ apology and commitment to carry out internal processes that will look into how this advert came to light and extend this scrutiny to other types of merchandise beyond hair products. We welcome Unilever’s commitment to (i) set up a new Diversity and Inclusion Assets Committee to ensure future advertising campaigns and publicity materials reflect their values, (ii) set up an Advisory Board to review how their hair care products in South Africa can use positive and empowering terms and work with them to support black hair stylists and small professional salons and (ii) review mandatory Diversity and Inclusion training and accelerate training on Unconscious Bias for all staff.

Unilever and Clicks must fully and urgently implement relevant actions that will strengthen their accountability mechanisms to ensure that they promote diversity and equality and realise the common vision of dismantling harmful stereotypes and creating content that reflects our true diversity.

For more information and interview requests, please contact;
Zeenat Abdool
Associate Public Information Officer
United Nations Information Centre, Pretoria
C: +27 82 7788 080 I