'Who is making decisions?': Experts weigh in on Clicks saga

01 October 2020 - 06:00
Protests over a racist advert for hair products brought Clicks to a standstill in early September. Reflecting on the saga in a webinar on Wednesday, experts agreed that companies in SA still have a lot of work to do when it comes to transformation and diversity.
Protests over a racist advert for hair products brought Clicks to a standstill in early September. Reflecting on the saga in a webinar on Wednesday, experts agreed that companies in SA still have a lot of work to do when it comes to transformation and diversity.
Image: THAPELO MOREBUDI/SUNDAY TIMES

The publication of a racially offensive advert on the Clicks website by Unilever hair brand TRESemmé was an indication of a lack of transformation, power and diversity, experts weighed in on Wednesday. 

The sentiments were expressed during a webinar hosted by the University of Pretoria on on how advertisements can be marketed by being inclusive, and the impact negative ads have on business survival, employee morale, job security, happiness and motivation. 

Panelists described the ad as insensitive and racist. They argued that companies needed to be aware of diversity in the communities they operated in. 

Reflecting on the Clicks saga, Dr Olebogeng Selebi, a lecturer in the department of business management, said the advertisement was very offensive and tone deaf.

She added, however, that it gave an indication of deeper issues which the society had to grapple with.

“I don’t think it is a white/black problem, but rather something engraved in all of us,” she said.

Selebi said it was important for organisations to understand they did not work in isolation.

“In the Clicks situation, they kind of forgot that they form part of a particular community and, in that community, people have different perceptions of beauty and of different advertisements,” she said.

As part of the solution, Selebi said it was important that “environmental scanning” took place on a regular basis so that organisations did not lose touch with communities or environments they operated within.

Meanwhile, Prof Alewyn Nel, head of department in the university's human resource department, said it was surprising that such elements were consistently happening. He argued that companies needed to understand deeper elements which confront society and apply sensitivity in their businesses.

“I think what happened here is that there wasn’t a clear systematic pilot of the campaign. I don’t think there was a clear discussion in order to make sure what message was conveyed and how it was received by consumers,” he said.

Nel said advertisements of a similar nature need to deconstruct what beauty is, adding that this should come naturally. Companies could not advocate for inclusivity but not implement it, he said.

Many companies have tried to implement transformation by getting numbers ... but it is much more than that. Who sits at the table? Who’s making decisions?
Prof Stella Nkomo

Prof Stella Nkomo, strategic professor in the department of human resource management, suggested that many companies had not looked deeply at transformation.

“Many companies have tried to implement transformation by getting numbers - more black people, Indian or coloured - but it is much more than that. Who sits at the table? Who’s making decisions?” she said.

"I cannot imagine that if there were black women - especially in the decision of the advertisement - they would have approved it, so it makes me wonder if companies are chasing numbers too much and not making sure people have power.”

Dr Tinashe Ndoro, a senior lecturer at the department of human resources, expressed similar sentiments.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done by Clicks. But even generally, a lot of marketers need to be conscious of diversity. They need to fully understand the environment,” he said.

“Clearly there's a lack of acknowledgement in diversity and lack of full understanding of the environment and how consumers perceive certain images.”

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