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A #Hairytale ending: Tangle Teezer's mission to support the Afro hair community

Don’t Cry Wolf won the Chair’s Award at The Drum Awards for Social Purpose, with its work for Tangle Teezer. It also won ‘Best PR Campaign’ and ‘For Profit Campaign of the Year’ category. Realizing that young children with Black and Afro hair don’t see themselves represented in fairy tales, the team got help three familiar stories to remind those kids of their own beauty. Here, the team behind this winning entry explains how it was brought to life.

Until recently, most hair and beauty brands excluded people of color, especially Black women. The range of foundation shades was limited, haircare products ignored the needs of Black and afro hair, and the majority of industry advertising featured white models. Progress is being made, but when legislation is needed to prohibit race-based hair discrimination – as in the US with the Crown Act – there is clearly still work to do.

Innovative haircare brand Tangle Teezer was founded by leading hair colorist Shaun P in London in 2007, after years of him looking for a quick and easy way to detangle knots without tugging and pulling. Tangle Teezer has since grown to become a global business which has sold over 50m detangling hairbrushes worldwide and has an army of fans who genuinely love the brand and its products.

The brand was never aimed specifically at people of color, but through social listening, the brand realized that it was being talked about in glowing terms as one of the best products for detangling Black hair. This was clearly an opportunity for the brand. But: Tangle Teezer was founded and is run by a mainly white team. It would not be cool (or authentic) for the brand to suddenly announce that it had always intended its products as meeting the specific haircare needs of people of color.

The brand briefed its global agency team to develop a campaign in the US and the UK that would give it an authentic reason to talk to Black men and women and the natural hair community, celebrate Black and afro hair, and improve representation in the oh-so-white beauty industry. In other words: be a strong ally.

Strategy and activity

It was crucial that we got the tone and angle right for this campaign. We wanted to better understand two things: how Black women really feel about their hair, and the best way of making Tangle Teezer relevant to that discussion.

We found that the number one Google search query for longform content on ‘afro hair’ is in relation to struggle: Black women feel like they have to ‘manage’ or ‘tame’ their hair. And experiences of discrimination and negative stereotypes are far too common.

In further analysis of what Tangle Teezer’s fans on social media were talking about, we found a nugget of potential gold: in contrast to what fans of every other haircare brand were talking about, they were readers: books & literature was the 5th most talked about topic.

Armed with these insights, we decided to find a way of improving representation and celebrating natural hair – through the medium of books.

Most of Tangle Teezer’s customers are women aged between 18-40, but we knew that negative experiences surrounding hair start at an early age, especially for Black girls. To have an impact we needed content that could target the whole family. This meant: storytime.

We looked into this further: research revealed that 46% of Black children in the UK and a third in the US said they don’t see anyone who looks like them in the books they read. This isn’t surprising, when you consider that just 5% of UK and 12% of US children’s books published in 2019 featured ethnic minority protagonists. And only 2% feature Black heroes.

So we gave fairytales a makeover, and came up with #Hairytales: a hairy twist on classic fairytales, rewriting three stories so they were led by Black characters. We insisted on only working with Black creatives, writers, directors and producers for the whole campaign.

We partnered with Kelly-Jade Nicholls, founder of Black children’s books subscription box Woke Babies and award-winning author Trish Cooke to re-imagine traditional tales with new role models: ‘Jackson and the Hairstalk’; a Pinocchio remake, ‘The Boy Who Wanted Hair’; and a Black Rapunzel in ‘Zel: Let Out Your Hair’.

We published 6,000 books, and all proceeds went to charity partner Pretty Brown Girls, which empowers young Black and brown girls in the US. We also gifted books to inner-city schools across the UK, so more young people can see themselves represented in books.

‘Zel: Let Out Your Hair’ was turned into a moving animation by Don’t Cry Wolf’s production team, with rising Hollywood actor Lexi Underwood providing the voiceover. Lexi, the star of TV series ‘Little Fires Everywhere’, had her own personal story about the struggles of growing up with a lack of representation in TV and film.

Alongside Lexi, we collaborated with nearly 30 influencers across the UK and US to tell their personal stories about growing up without seeing themselves reflected in media and literature. Content was created by the likes of YouTubers The Kabs Family, Leigh-Anne Pinnock from Little Mix, and four-year-old Instagram mini-influencer Milan Marie.

Results

Tangle Teezer’s first activist campaign didn’t just enable a white-founded brand to credibly and elegantly join a Black conversation. The Hairytales campaign resulted in a small agency rewriting a brand’s global diversity policy and changing the company from within to be a better ally of people of color. The company published its first diversity pledge and made a commitment to ensure that 60% of all influencer partnerships are with people of color. Tangle Teezer also signed up to the Halo Code, a pledge to tackle hair discrimination in the workplace.

The campaign wildly outperformed Tangle Teezer’s expectations of engagement:

  • Over 1m impressions from influencer content, with an engagement rate of 12.5%
  • Celebrities such as Reese Witherspoon and American makeup artist and Peloton cycling instructor Tunde Oyeneyin, posted after being gifted the Hairytales books
  • The animation was watched over 250,000 times, representing an ROI ten times better than Tangle Teezer’s usual spend on YouTube
  • 17% uplift in traffic to Tangle Teezer’s website during the campaign
  • Over 300 pieces of quality press coverage with 60 backlinks and a reach of 255 million, including primetime broadcast appearances on Good Morning America and BBC news.
  • $20,000 was donated to Pretty Brown Girl from sales of the books and limited edition hairbrushes.

The campaign’s appearance on Good Morning America broke the Woke Babies website and enabled Woke Babies to break into the US market, securing a distribution deal with department store Nordstrom. In the UK the books were so popular that they’re now available in Waterstones. All future proceeds will go to the author and Woke Babies.

“Don’t Cry Wolf continuously outperforms on KPIs but also pushes us to be a better business and corporate citizen. As a result of this work we were able to truly use the power of our brand to empower influencers and creatives underrepresented in our industry and give them a platform. It's a campaign that our entire business has celebrated and we can't wait to do more together.” Amy Barber, Head of Marketing North America, Tangle Teezer

This campaign was a winner at The Drum Awards for Social Purpose. To find out more, including which competitions are currently open for entry, visit The Drum Awards website.

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