BUSINESS MAVERICK

Clicks stores trashed over racist ad

By Sasha Planting 8 September 2020

Members of the Economic Freedom Fighters at Sandton City Mall during the national shutdown of all Clicks outlets on 7 September 2020. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sharon Seretlo)

Thuggery and violent protests at Clicks stores nationwide distract from the real issue: Why do brands keep making ads that are racially offensive?

The Clicks pharmacy group was forced to close its 880-store franchise on Monday after 37 stores were vandalised, looted and in some cases petrol-bombed.

This was after the EFF protested outside the stores following the publication of an offensive and racist ad for a hair care product made by Unilever brand TRESemmé on the Clicks website last Friday.

The ad depicted the hair of a black woman as being “dry, damaged, frizzy and dull”, and put it against that of a white woman with hair described as “colour treated, fine, flat or normal”. The ad campaign was apparently meant to celebrate all hair types, but the discrimination was implicit: “Black women, use this shampoo and you can have hair like this white woman.”

The outrage was immediate. Marketers never seem to learn.

Clicks, Unilever and TRESemmé took the ad down on the same day and published an apology, with Clicks taking to social media to apologise to customers.

The EFF jumped into the fray and published a statement saying that its “progressive forces” would ensure that Clicks would be held accountable for its actions.

EFF Secretary-General Marshall Dlamini wrote to Clicks, demanding that it publish the names of all of the people involved in commissioning, producing and publishing the ad, whether they were internal staff or employees and directors of third parties. 

If Clicks did not comply “in writing” within 24 hours, the EFF would close all stores “without further notice”.

The EFF followed this up with a warlike Twitter campaign:

Clicks replied to the EFF via its legal team at Werksmans, stating that privacy laws meant it could not release the names of the people involved (and for their own safety), but pointing out that Clicks acknowledged the ad was offensive and that the CEO Vikesh Ramsunder had apologised unreservedly. The open letter was later published, and Clicks invited the EFF to further discussions.

Werksmans then instructed the EFF to cancel the threatened shutdown of the stores and remove all content from social media which it said inflamed and incited violence against Clicks, its properties and staff.

The outcome, noted in the letter below, was probably predictable. 

Clicks also dug its heels in, and opened up on Monday morning. Dozens of stores were trashed by EFF supporters, an eNCA journalist was harassed and Clicks staff were told to go home for their own safety.

Clicks sought urgent relief from the courts, seeking an interdict to prevent the EFF from protesting outside their stores. This was denied with costs.

That the interdict was denied was surprising, says human rights lawyer Richard Spoor, given what appeared to be a clear incitement to violence. While a right to protest is enshrined in SA law, there is no right to intimidate or threaten.

“Incitement to commit a crime is a statutory offence under the Riotous Assemblies Act. Julius Malema is no stranger to incitement of violence and has previously been found guilty by both the high court and the Supreme Court of Appeal. He has now taken this to the Constitutional Court, and the case has not yet been heard.”

In Spoor’s opinion, Monday’s events could open the EFF up to potentially damaging criminal and civil litigation. 

“He and the leadership of the EFF were using words and phrases like ‘attack’, ‘we are going to war’, ‘show no mercy’. The message was very clear, he was directing his ground forces,” Spoor says. 

Whether Clicks will defend its civil rights with litigation, remains to be seen. The CEO was not entertaining calls with most media on Monday. However, the DA announced its intention to lay charges against Julius Malema and the EFF for incitement of violence and destruction of property.

The tagline #Clicks trended on Twitter on Monday with 57,000 tweets. However, opinions were divided, with many Twitterati, including Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, taking exception to the EFF’s particular brand of lawlessness.

In many ways, the violence distracts from the real issue: why do big brands, which should be culturally sensitive, produce racist ads again and again?

In 2017 it was the turn of Unilever (again) brand Dove which was forced to apologise after publishing an advert on its Facebook page that showed a black woman turning into a white woman.

Last year Gucci apologised for a turtleneck sweater ad that depicted blackface.

And recently Volkswagen and genealogy company Ancestry.com removed and apologised for offensive ads.

In the case of Volkswagen, the ad showed a huge white hand picking up and flicking a black man away from a yellow Volkswagen Golf. The Ancestry ad featured a fictional pre-Civil War romance between a black woman and a white man – forgetting that in the real world these “romances” were not consensual.

These are US and European examples. One would have thought that in South Africa, where race is such an emotive topic, we would know better.

Meanwhile, Clicks shareholders showed no obvious emotion, with the share ending the day marginally depressed at R228.39. DM/BM

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All Comments 19

  • How it’s possible to think that the violence and thuggery “distracts from the real issue” of racially insensitive adverts is beyond me. Thugs trashing stores, terrorising employees, and throwing petrol bombs, in the absence of any discernible protection from the police or courts, and despite a fulsome apology from the company’s CEO, is the real issue. The particular trigger could have been anything for this attention-starved party of fascists, and is quite incidental.

    • I agree. The writer is wrong. The real issues are criminals getting away with violence, destruction and theft and then, systemically, the capture of the courts. Clicks was headslappingly stupid, but they did withdraw and apologise without delay.

  • Promotional and advertising companies often have a huge influence on a company’s approach to marketing … why is the culprit in this instance not highlighted… It would also be interesting to find out who comprised the team who generated the advert?

    • 100% agree. Who signed off on the advert, both on the advertising agency side AND the product side? These people ought to be hauled over the coals too! It astounds me that people in this world even think that way!

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    Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise. #SeasonOfCreation #LaudatoSì
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    When will the world be able to see racist issues as joyful mysteries to be contemplated with wisdom, consideration and gladness and praise.

  • Sadly was seems to be beyond many in this country is to reflect upon their own ingrained prejudices. Instead the natural reflex is the „righteous indignation“ over the undisputed illegal actions of the EFF.
    Unfortunately reflection and indignation are no natural allies and it would seem indignation is the easy winner.
    Thanks for your good article, Sasha Planting!

  • Please don’t call this ad a ‘racist ad’. You undermine racism. This is at worst, a miscalculation by advertisers who don’t understand hair and self-esteem. On the other hand, incitement to murder, violence and looting is absolutely criminal.

  • Political season is upon us. The DA denounces race as a basis for taking the country forward and the EFF uses race as their trump card and justification for indignation and violence. Could an interesting debate on identity arise from this? Unfortunately both parties seem to have fairly fragile ego’s right now and politics is not really about educating and liberating the voter, is it? Will someone please rise to fill this obvious void.

    • Yup – the DA dumps identitarian politics whilst the EFF doubles down!! The commentariat in this country is always to willing to side with the “oppressed” without looking at the real issues. For instance, this ad is definitely sensitive in this country & it was a Clicks idiot who missed that – but it wasn’t made or designed in SA!

  • A civilised country always harbours people who are uncivilised. Uncivilised people take no notice of the institutions of civilisation like the legal system. Why did Julius et al not voice their disappointment with this ad through the courts? Why did they resort to violent, uncivilised, behaviour instead. The EFF does not bode well for our country.

  • From a business and marketing perspective, the ‘BLACK’ market is by far the biggest market segment and all and any business will seek to entice consumers from that group for their respective products. In this case, I assume the marketers considered the VERY LARGE sector of Black women who aspire to Western hairstyles by wearing wigs and offered them an option in this specific product. But the real issue here is not and should not be the ad… it should rather be the intolerable reaction from a group of thugs who deem themselves above the law and respectful citizenry …. they are the enemy of our future …not the ad agencies !!

    • I will not be denied entry , unless by police !
      do not violate my space !
      do not crowd and threaten me .
      I will take necessary measures to protect myself .
      Am not out to provoke violence , life is easier without ,
      However , I will not be a victim !

  • I have dry, dull, damaged, frizzy hair and I specifically look for products to deal with my hair type and am grateful to Clicks for providing such products and labeling them clearly as dealing with such hair type. Cantu products have now been described by your journalist as for Black people. I use Cantu products and I am white. The description from Clicks is for hair type. Not skin colour.

  • Would love to do a CSI type search to find the first complainant .
    Why and how did it surface right now ?
    Will all hair relaxers be removed from the shelves ?
    Braids must fall ?
    Who first compared the two hair types ? They are clearly very different .
    what happened to ‘Black like me ‘ cosmetics ?
    am I racist if I swipe my Clicks card at Engen ? What /message/ will that convey to the petrol attendent ?
    Am I racist if I do not watch the BET on tv , only WTV ?
    Hmm , no WTV available .
    or a place for whites in Ms Black South Africa
    Or the BLA , /BMF , or anything that begins with Black !
    Clearly racist , yet remain without condemnation .
    I respect the right for the EFF to protest .
    as they will respect my right to shop where I want to .
    I abide by the law , I will not have my space invaded , there will be a warning , finger pointing at a distance , if jostled and threatened , with my phone on ‘record’ , will be ‘in fear of my life’ and take appropriate action . If needs be , fight fire with a nuclear missile !

  • I’m a Daily Maverick fan but very disappointed with this heading labeling the ad racist . That ad was not yet found to be racist and is still under investigation by the HRC. With this headline and report your reporter demonstrates that she did not even bother to visit the Tresemme website to get the background behind the ad. Jumping to conclusions, which is no better than self-appointed judges on social media and no better than EFF’s reaction.

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