ALMOST FIVE decades after it patented the name Fair & Lovely, Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL), the Indian arm of the global conglomerate, announced Thursday that it will move towards a “more inclusive vision of beauty” — by dropping the word “Fair” and changing the brand name. It will also remove the words “fair/fairness”, “white/whitening”, and “light/lightening” from its products’ packs and communication.
“We are fully committed to having a global portfolio of skin care brands that is inclusive and cares for all skin tones, celebrating greater diversity of beauty. We recognise that the use of the words ‘fair’, ‘white’ and ‘light’ suggest a singular ideal of beauty that we don’t think is right, and we want to address this,” said Sunny Jain, President, Beauty & Personal Care, Unilever, in a statement.
Jain said that after changing the advertising, communication and packaging in South Asia, they are taking the next step of changing the brand name. According to a PTI report, the company approached the Controller General of Patent Design and Trademark on June 17 to get the name ‘Glow & Lovely’ registered.
The conglomerate derives $500 million from the brand in India alone, and is popular in countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia and Thailand, apart from catering to the Asian diaspora in the West.
The move comes in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, and protests in the US after the death of George Floyd, which has compelled companies, globally, to reassess their businesses and marketing strategies for signs of racism, colourism and discrimination.
There have been a number of online petitions recently, demanding that HUL take accountability for the brand name which, one of them said, is a “product of colourism”. In Asia, a number of cosmetics companies, including L’Oréal, Shiseido and Procter & Gamble, have devoted a huge part of their businesses to fairness creams. And, prominent Bollywood actors, including Priyanka Chopra, Katrina Kaif, Deepika Padukone, Sonam Kapoor, Yami Gautam and Shah Rukh Khan have at some point in their careers endorsed fairness creams.
Over the last few decades, Fair & Lovely gained much popularity in India but in recent years it has received flak for equating a fair skin tone with self-worth, beauty, confidence and better marital prospects.
“It’s a milestone in our journey ending colourism in India. But what is sad is that it has taken us 10 years. We did write to many companies but we were always ignored,” said Kavitha Emmanuel, who started Dark is Beautiful, an advocacy campaign against colourism, in 2009.
“Advertisements and products that we put on the shelf play a huge role in endorsing the bias… The rebranding and dropping of products will definitely help in ending colourism,” said the Chennai-based founder of Women of Worth, a non-profit organisation.
HUL’s announcement comes after Johnson & Johnson (J&J) decided to stop the sale of Neutrogena Fine Fairness cream, sold in Asia and Middle East, and Clean & Clear fairness cream, sold only in India, earlier this month. Matrimonial site, shaadi.com, has also decided to discontinue the option that allowed users to filter potential matches by skin tone.
In February, the Ministry of Health had said that advertisements promoting fairness creams could soon be banned and attract a jail term extending up to five years.
“The cat was set among the pigeons by J&J, which happens to be a small player in the Indian market. The biggest player is HUL with Fair & Lovely, which has Rs 2,400 crore in turnover. This is a significant move, but the big challenge is that a fairness cream will now have to morph itself into a beauty cream,” said brand strategy specialist Harish Bijoor.
According to the recently published report, “India Fairness Cream & Bleach Market Overview, 2018-2023”, by Ireland-based Research and Markets, the women’s fairness cream category is anticipated to achieve market revenues of more than Rs 5,000 crore by 2023.
The HUL move has been a long time coming, said Mumbai-based Pallavi Chakravarti, Executive Creative Director, Taproot Dentsu. “This is a bold and welcome move, given the numbers that the brand does in the country. Having said that, it’s not just about the rebranding of the label but how they craft their marketing communications,” she said. “If they start (making such changes) now, we can achieve this in possibly a decade.”
(With Benita Fernando)
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