What’s wrong with the TRESemmé advert?


TRESemmé’s advert encourages black women to buy a product that claims to remove the frizz from their hair and leave them with straight hair like Model A, a white model, whose hair is described as “normal’’. It also uses a second white model (Model B) to encourage white women with “fine, flat hair” to buy the product in order to obtain the thick, full-bodied hair of Model A. 

This transforms a hair straightener into a hair straightener-cum-conditioner and helps to disguise the fact that TRESemmé is encouraging black women to remove the frizz from their hair. This deception is taken to a higher level by referring to the frizzy hair of one of the two black models (Model C) as “dry, damaged hair”, which raises the possibility that TRESemmé is not targeting “black hair/frizzy hair” per se (but that it actually is targeting dry, damaged hair). 

Consequently, readers who find the advert offensive may have difficulty in explaining why.

The advert makes uncomplimentary remarks about the hair of both black models and then uses Model A to portray so-called “normal hair”. This strange statement opens the door to the suggestion that black women would be more attractive if they looked more like white women. 

This suggestion is not counteracted sufficiently by the fact that the advert is also negative about the hair of white model B. 

Indeed, many black people may not realise that the majority of white women prefer thick hair to fine hair and, therefore, are likely to erroneously think that fine hair refers to attractive hair. It does not. Fine hair refers to thin hair. Similarly, most whites prefer full-bodied, bouncy hair to flat hair.

In my opinion, the team that created the ad knew that it was likely to offend and used four models in order to disguise what they were doing. This ties in with the fact that TRESemmé has not attempted to explain what the advert was trying to say. 

TRESemmé’s parent company, Unilever, sells a range of skin-lightening creams and has a history of marketing them in an aggressive manner. 

Be that as it may, people cannot be allowed to go on a rampage whenever their feelings are hurt, and the behaviour of Julius Malema and his fellow revolutionaries must therefore be condemned.

Our poverty-stricken nation — which boasts an official unemployment rate of 30.1% — simply cannot afford to punish huge companies like Unilever too severely.

It may just transpire that we need them more than they need us.

Terence Grant is a Mail & Guardian reader from Cape Town

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.