The campaign ad for “Mulheres que Brilham (Women that Shine)” was considered racist by the SEPPIR (Secretaria de Políticas de Promoção da Igualdade Racial – Special Secretariat for Policies to Promote Racial Equality), which called for the suspension of the recent ad. The image causing the controversy shows a woman with the brand logo on her full head of hair, which led the government to associate the product to the curly/kinky hair of women of African descent.
Bombril and other products have historically been a topic of emotional stress, jokes and pain for many Brazilian women who possess curly, kinky or wavy hair. Bombril is a popular steel wool scouring pad that is used to scrub and clean pots, pans and other household items.
Conar (Conselho Nacional da Autoregulamentação Publicitária or National Council for Advertising Self-Regulation) had originally denied the claim of the Secretariat, but the company changed the campaign to avoid further controversy. “Bombril wants to emphasize that it had no intention of making any kind of association that was not referring to the appreciation and exaltation of the beauty and diversity of Brazilian women,” the company said in a statement.
At the time of the launch of the campaign, the ad was aired on the popular SBT network’s Programa Raul Gil TV program that searches for new musical talent throughout the country, many consumers complained about the ad on social networks and even created an online petition to get it off the air.
The controversy surrounding this ad is reminiscent of several other incidents concerning black women’s hair or image that made headlines within the past years and over the past several years not considering the thousands of women whose hair is the butt of cruel jokes in everyday life in Brazil. There was the Devassa beer ad that took advantage of stereotypes of black women’s sexuality in one of its ads, the black female intern who was berated on a college campus due to her hair, the two songs that were deemed offensive last year and a girl who denied entrance into her high school because of her hair.
The ad also brings to mind the treatment of a black contestant on the 4th season of the Brazilian reality show Big Brother Brasil 4. The contestant’s name was Solange Cristina Couto Maria and in the 2004 airing of the show on Brazil’s Globo TV network, Solange and a white contestant, Marcela de Mello Queiroz, were involved in what some call one of the worst fights to ever air on any of the show’s seasons.
During the argument, Solange told Marcela that she had a “droopy butt (bunda caída)” for which Marcela replied, “At least I don’t have that nappy hair (Pelo menos não tenho esse cabelo pixaim).” Queiroz would be eliminated from the show, and in her opinion, her elimination was due to her fight with Solange. Commenting on the situation, she would say that she was not a racist but that she only used these words in the heat of the argument: “I attacked ‘Sol’ at her weak spot because she talked about my body. I knew that her nappy hair is what bothered her the most so I used this to get to her. I never said anything in relation to her color”, she defended. Apparently Queiroz didn’t know that it’s not only references to skin color that are deemed racist.
Solange was also attacked online by viewers who didn’t like her. In one online posting, someone apparently created a blog entitled “Eu odeio Solange (I hate Solange)” with a intro page photo of a monkey next her name. In another comment, someone posted a photo of a popular cleaning product called “Assolan” and merged the name of the product with Solange’s name and called it “Assolange”.
Assolan is another brand of steel wool scouring pad used for cleaning pots, pans and household items. As Marcela Queiroz had attacked the texture of Solange’s hair, this comment incorporating the usage of the Assolan cleaning product was a clear comparison to Solange’s hair. To see the repudiation of the ad as well as one woman’s written response to the ad, see here.