by Mongezi Mtati (@Mongezi) When it comes to black women and their hair, one thing that is clear to me is that you stay out of it and only grin at the possibility of that debate as you shuffle towards the exit — as is the case with most hair discussions. So for Appletiser, a brand that has been increasingly targeting professional women, to seemingly overlook such a sensitive issue, was to lose the message completely.

In a recent hashtag campaign, Appletiser posted a tweet about every brunette needing a blonde “bestie” — with a pic of a black woman with braids and a white woman with blonde hair. Since hair colour isn’t a specialty of mine (nor is being politically correct at times), the black lady might have been a stand-in brunette for the photoshoot. After all, she had braids.

Appletiser Brunette tweetRuffling feathers sells

Or does it?

Nando’s is known for its hilarious advertising that sometimes gets pulled off mainstream media, only to go viral across the web; we have all come to expect it. CellC also has had its fair share of viral content lately, thanks to the commercial of a dog humping someone’s leg, as dogs embarrassingly tend to do. For both Nando’s and Cell C, the hilarity lies in the familiarity and the ability to start a conversation on a topic that consumers are all too accustomed to.

But Appletiser’s message was lost somewhere between the creative idea and the heated tweets that followed. Instead of creating positive and lighthearted conversation, the brand managed to show itself as overlooking its consumer and being no one’s “bestie”.

Take ownership

One of the things Appletiser could have done is to own the issue, to clarify what it meant and take the heat (as Cricket South Africa did earlier this year). Although some brands tend to shy away from their perceived blunders, the social web has come to expect that a brand will have its bad days and may be forgiving. We’re only human, after all.

When scrolling down the Appletiser thread, there didn’t appear to be any interaction back from the brand explaining what this meant, to share who — in its view — was the brunette.

Let evangelists emerge

Following an apology and owning one’s mistake, some people come to the defence of the brands they have an affinity with. When a brand hides from contentious issues, it only fuels the growing negativity that is caused by a perceived blunder, and may lead to the loss of community members.

In instances where brands take accountability, issues subside after a while and their positive followers emerge from the darkness. In other cases, it seems to be a long endless tunnel.

Key actions after a perceived blunder

  1. Clarify what you meant.
  2. Take immediate action and apologise.
  3. Be the first to point out the mistake.
  4. Move away from scripted content and engage in real conversation.


Mongezi Mtati


Mongezi Mtati (@Mongezi) is the founding MD of WordStart ( Apart from being a kiteboarding and sandboarding adventurer, Mongezi connects companies and brands with measurable word-of-mouth. He contributes the monthly “The Word” column on word-of-mouth marketing and social media strategy to MarkLives.


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