Will hair-curling blunder mark a turning point?
The Clicks advert that caused an outburst of public anger.
● The furore round the racist hair advert that sparked every week of protest action at Clicks stores across SA within the week has put entrenched structural racism and “unconscious bias” in the advertising industry into sharp focus.
The retailer has borne the brunt of widespread condemnation of the TRESemmé advert, which featured a denigrating comparison of white and black hair, but the backlash has extended to the brand’s multinational distributor, Unilever, and therefore the boutique ad agency where the offensive campaign was born.
The Niche Guys, the agency that created the advert, closed ranks in the week , with CEO Leigh Augustus declining to comment.
Executive director Cameron Krieger also delivered an emphatic “no comment” when contacted by the Sunday Times.
Senior executives at Unilever and Clicks who let the advert slip through on their watch have tendered their resignations, following the delisting of TRESemmé products by Clicks, Shoprite Checkers, Pick n Pay, Makro and Dis-Chem. Other junior executives face disciplinary action.
Creative consultant Ahmed Tilly, who has spent 25 years within the advertising industry, said every company that had a hand in producing the advert should be called to account.
“The work would are seen by variety of various stakeholders from different companies and agencies. All of them are in charge of letting a racist piece of labor see the sunshine of day — regardless of the race of people involved,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate that something like this had to happen.
‘Racial biases and insensitivity within the media are something that require to be met with action, and therefore the Clicks saga will help highlight the matter ,” Tilly said.
The EFF has been at the forefront of protest action against the advert, with party leader Julius Malema calling on his supporters to shutter 880 Clicks outlets.
Several shops were vandalised and 10 EFF members were arrested. Party MP Kenny Motsamai was handcuffed and is facing charges of assaulting a policeman and assault after a scuffle at a Clicks store in Evaton, near Vereeniging, on Tuesday.
Mike Abel, CEO and co-founder of agency M&C Saatchi Abel, said while transformation should still advance, the local industry had been widely transformed and it had been unfair to form it “the whipping boy” over an event in isolation.
“Every single day thousands of ads are posted across the country without incident, which probably translates to a 99.99% success rate … I don’t believe our advertising is Eurocentric and it’s deeply respectful of our society, and this seems like a witch-hunt,” he said.
“The industry is transforming. there’s tons to be done, but we are on the front foot thereon journey.”
Abel said there was no doubt that the contentious ad was racist and insensitive.
“There always must be a high level of awareness, especially of unconscious bias, but to seem at the South African advertising agency as a scapegoat is fallacious.”
He said a “critical awareness of unconscious bias” was needed in the least times to stop inadvertently playing into stereotypes or unintentionally offending.
The Advertising Regulatory Board received 10 complaints about the TRESemmé campaign, with CEO Gail Schimmel pointing to a requirement for educating the industry.
“We are looking very closely at what education we will offer the industry round the rules around discriminatory and offensive advertising because there clearly may be a problem,” she said.
Unilever, which had kept mum because the scandal evolved, issued an apology on Friday. “We were shocked to get that we had supplied images for the Clicks website that portrayed black hair as inferior. This was racist and that we apologise unreservedly,” it said.
“We immediately began an investigation to know what happened. At an equivalent time, we began reviewing all the marketing campaigns and pictures in our South Africa portfolio to form sure they match our commitment to celebrate all beauty and promote diversity and inclusion.”
The multibillion-rand firm will found out a diversity and inclusion committee and an planning board stocked internal and external experts “to review how our hair-care products in South Africa offers consumers the solutions they need in positive and empowering terms”.