Business / Business News

Brian Sokutu
Senior Print Journalist
3 minute read
7 Sep 2020
8:24 am

Clicks faces EFF’s wrath, but brand damage could be even worse

Brian Sokutu

'What people look for in brands is knowing that you care about them. What Clicks did, contradicted that,' one expert said.

Picture for illustration. EFF supporters outside the Hawks offices in support of EFF leader Julius Malema to take a warning statement relating to the allegations of discharging a firearm at the EFF 5th Anniversary, 10 September 2019, Pretoria. Picture: Jacques Nelles

Facing a massive backlash due to its racially-divisive advert, health and beauty retailer Clicks on Monday confronts the wrath of Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) supporters, heeding a call by commander-in-chief Julius Malema for the closure of all Clicks stores, with experts warning of a significant reputational damage to the business brand.

The mass mobilisation onslaught on Clicks has been sparked by last week’s advert published on the company website, labelling black hair as “frizzy and dull” and white hair as “normal”.

The EFF wants Clicks stores to announce shutting down voluntarily,

“If Clicks does not close, our members in all the branches will shut down all 880 Clicks outlets across the country from Monday 7 September 2020 to Friday, 11 September 2020,” warned the EFF in a statement issued on Sunday.

Among other demands, the EFF called for the:

  • Immediate termination of the company contracted, which commissioned the advert.
  • The company to publicly list the names of all its directors and employees who were involved in the commissioning of the advert.
  • All people involved in the commissioning of the advert – whether employees or independent contractors, be dismissed with immediate effect.
  • Public listing of service providers or contractors who commissioned the advert.

Meanwhile, the 70s Group, which comprise liberation thought leaders and activists of the 1970s, also waded in on the Clicks fiasco.

“The advertising campaign by Clicks is reprehensible.

“It is condescending. It re-enforces super and subordinate relations in a society still hurting from racism.

“It promotes aesthetics ranking white hair as standard for blacks to reach and aspire for with all that money can buy to secure an image other than theirs.

“That Clicks went out of its way to invest in the stereotypical entrenchment of racism that colonial conquest used to debase, and deny black people of their humanity, renders blacks mere consumers to be modelled in accordance with white values bolstering commercial pursuits allowing for debasement of blacks to continue to business as usual,” said chairperson Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva.

Communications and brand experts spoken to by The Citizen said the Clicks advertising debacle could have been averted, with one strategist maintaining that international best practice in advertising called for the avoidance of anything that could be perceived as racist, sexist or homophobic.

Said communications strategist Sarah Britten: “Based on what I’ve seen on social media, there is a lot of anger from Clicks customers who say they won’t shop there again.

“Given that Clicks has worked hard over the past couple of years to expand their ethnic haircare offering and positioning themselves as the go-to mainstream retail brand for haircare for people of colour, their senior management can’t be happy about this.

“The reputational damage from that point of view, is significant.

Asked whether the advertising industry was inherently racist, Britten responded: “For sure. And there is a legacy of racism and sexism that still needs to be dealt with.

“But globally there is huge pressure on brands and their agencies to be perceived as progressive.”

Brand expert Nokuzola Plaatjie said: “Clicks oversight has impacted how consumers view them, which may affect how consumers will now experience them.

“Not only did Clicks reveal they don’t understand one of their key target markets – SA black women. Though they are willing to make a profit from them but they also don’t see SA women and their hair as worthy.

“It’s important for every company to monitor and actively work towards building and sustaining a healthy brand with a positive reputation.”

Said Khanyi Madlala of Zoe PR: “What people look for in brands is knowing that you care about them. What Clicks did, contradicted that.”

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