One day after Black Twitter caught wind of a J.Crew model of color with seemingly unkempt hair, the American clothing company issued an apology for “the offense that was caused” in their ad.
Controversy over the ad sparked last week when a black makeup artist tweeted a photo of Dominican model Marihenny Pasible sporting a dress made by Madewell, a subsidiary brand owned by J.Crew, and a messy ponytail.
The tweet generated almost 20,000 likes and over 10,000 retweets. Soon thereafter, other social media users claimed that the hairstyle was more than unflattering, it was disrespectful toward the model and her heritage. They also questioned if the hairstylist hired for the photoshoot was unfamiliar with black hair.
My mom literally sent me this yesterday 😂 pic.twitter.com/zY3uchmbnK
— yes im amazing (@KadiaKakes) November 10, 2017
To be fair, many of the white-looking models featured on the brand’s website flaunt effortless ponytails and “bed hair” as well. Some social media users argued women of color should be granted agency to rock the same type of hairstyle. Essence agreed. The model in the picture also chimed in, defending her look in the ad.
“This attention is flattering, but the concept of the brand specifically is to show that clothes can be comfortable, wearable and naturally beautiful,” she wrote. “So the natural hair and makeup fits right in. Also these days it is all about women embracing their natural looks so here it is!,” wrote Pasible in an Instagram post.
Yet in still, critics argued that there is a right way and a wrong way for women of color with textured hair to sport an easy, breezy hairstyle. There is a big difference between a natural hairstyle and unkempt hair.
In response to the controversy, J.Crew tweeted an apology.
While the question of whether or not J.Crew crossed the line is debatable, there are a few valuable lessons that companies should note. Here are three ways to avoid falling victim to a marketing crisis like Shea Moisture, Dove, and Pepsi, have done in the past:
Cultural sensitivity—the knowledge and skills to understand, learn, and appropriately interact with others from a different cultural background—is a key component to avoid a marketing misstep. With proper cultural sensitivity training, brands can avoid misrepresenting different ethnic groups. For instance, had J.Crew been privy to the history, cultural norms, and relationship that black women have historically had with their hair, then maybe they would have chosen a less controversial look for their black model.
Hiring a diverse group of employees has been proven to increase a company’s productivity, retention rate, and bottom line. Plus, it’s important to include the insight of employees with different backgrounds and experiences when coming up with marketing ideas. Perhaps more women, or at least one with a deep understanding of black hair, should have weighed in before J.Crew published this ad.
After getting called out by customers for an offense, the worst thing a company can do is become defensive. Clapping back at customers just exacerbates the problem. Instead, a business should take negative feedback into consideration and issue a quick and diplomatic response to neutralize the outcry. Use J.Crew’s apology statement as an example of how to handle marketing missteps.