Using racial stereotypes for laughs in marketing is nothing new. Even these days, many people don't seem to notice the casual racism of some marketing campaigns—especially when their culture isn’t the one being used as a punchline.
Case in point: Cibu International's line of hair products with names like "Miso Knotty Detangler" and "Geishalicious Shampoo." Many of Cibu’s product names lump together food and martial arts references from different Asian cultures. But the worst are those that play on creepy, fetishizing stereotypes about Asian women, such as “Miso Knotty Detangler” and “Geishalicious Shampoo.” In one image originally posted on Cibu’s Facebook page, a naked Asian woman is pictured on her knees, hands behind her back, eyes downcast with the words “Seduced by Geishalicious” written underneath.
Concerned individuals made Cibu International and its owner Ratner Companies (which also owns Hair Cuttery, Bubbles, Salon Cielo, Salon Plaza, and Colorworks salons) the target of an online petition, demanding they change the name of the products. When people posted their complaints on the company's Facebook page, some fans of the products dismissed them, replying: “Can’t anyone find anything better to do?” and “playing the race card as a knee-jerk reaction is dangerous and offensive.” In another thread, a fan quipped: “Me love you long time!”
We were skeptical that Cibu would change its ways, but contacted the company last week to ask for an explanation of the clear racism in its marketing. To our surprise, Director of Public and Community Relations Diane Daly replied with a statement last Thursday: “We have decided to embark on a process of transitioning out of the current product names and reintroducing them with new names."
Victory! As the company moves forward, we hope that the voices of Asian Americans are sought out and heard.
While Cibu's is just the most recent example of a hair-product peddler employing racist stereotypes in its marketing, Cibu's racism has plenty of company. Below are four other examples of problematic hair product marketing, from old campaigns to new ones.
Given the current economic crisis (and the fact that Slumdog Millionaire cleaned up at last night's Oscars), it seemed high time we dedicated the Adventures in Feministory segment of the blog to a woman who was all about the Benjamins. We could all use a little financial inspiration these days, right?
So stop clipping those coupons, put off your dumpster diving until the weather gets a little warmer, and read on to learn more about Madam CJ Walker, the first African American woman to become a self-made millionaire. Let's hope that her entrepeneurial spirit and skill at crafting hair care products for black women (her specialty) will inspire some of us to follow in her feministory footsteps.