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Hindustan Unilever to Drop ‘Fair’ from ‘Fair & Lovely’

As Indians and belonging to the land of ‘dusky’ people, we’ve grown up with the mentality that ‘fair is better.’ I’m sorry to break every Indian’s bubble here and say that the average Indian’s skin tone is not ‘white’ and to be precise here - ‘fair’ and there’s very less that you can do in that department. We’ve all grown to with a wrong notion and to be honest, while we have a society and the whole upbringing to blame there’s also the influence of the beauty industry and other external forces that have imbibed this racist culture in our minds[i].


In a major rebranding initiative, Hindustan Unilever has declared that it will stop using the word ‘Fair’ in the brand name ‘Fair & Lovely”. Over the last decade, Fair & Lovely’s advertising has developed to communicate a message of women’s empowerment. The brand’s vision to adopt a holistic approach to beauty that cares for people that must be inclusive and diverse for everyone, everywhere. For most consumer in India a fairness product is said to be the first point of entry into the world of beauty[ii].

BACKGROUND

This is not the first time the company has set out to rebrand the cream. In 2019, words such as “fair/ fairness”, “white/ whitening” and “light/ lightening” were dropped from the packaging. Now, Mehta announced, the emphasis would be shifted from “fairness” to “glow”. But words such as “glow” and skin “brightening” have long been used by cosmetic products as more admissible alternatives for treatments that aim to lighten skin tone[iii].


This move comes in the wake of the ongoing anti-racism and anti-colourism movement in the United States and across the globe, the Black Lives Matter movement. The movement has led to a resurgence of conversations about India’s role in promulgating colourism within its own borders. However, India’s battle with colourism runs deeper than the mechanics of a capitalist fairness cream industry. In a news report by Al Jazeera, former Lok Sabha MP Udit Raj said, “Colour prejudice is an offshoot of the bigger evil of casteism in India.” Lighter skin has been historically equated to an indicator of power, wealth and caste privilege in India[iv].

HINDUSTAN UNILEVER’S RESPONSE

In a press release, Unilever announced “the next step in the evolution of its skin care portfolio to a more inclusive vision of beauty – which includes the removal of the words ‘fair/fairness’, ‘white/whitening’, and ‘light/lightening’ from its products’ packs and transmission. As part of this decision, the Fair & Lovely brand name will be modified in the next few months. The new name is awaiting regulatory approvals, the company said. The Fair and Lovely brand has been criticised for promoting fairness as a symbol of beauty in an Indian milieu where diversity of skin tones is prevalent[v].


Sunny Jain, President Beauty & Personal Care, Unilever, said, “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 ethical, and we want to address this. As we’re progressing the way that we communicate the skin benefits of our products that deliver radiant and even tone skin, it’s also important to change the language we use[vi].”


Earlier, Johnson & Johnson announced that it will exit the fairness cream category in India and the Middle East as protests have grown over the issue of gender discrimination and stereotyping following the death of George Floyd in the United States. The men's class of Fair & Lovely will be called Glow & Handsome. HUL said the next step in evolution of its skin care portfolio is to have a more inclusive vision of positive beauty[vii].


Sanjiv Mehta, the Chairman and Managing Director of HUL said, “We are making our skin care portfolio more exhaustive and want to accompany the celebration of a more distinct depiction of beauty. In 2019, we detached the cameo with two faces as well as the shade guides from the packaging of Fair & Lovely and the brand communication progressed from fairness to glow which is a more global and inclusive measure of healthy skin.

These changes were very well received by our consumers. We now announce that we will take off the word ‘Fair’ from our brand name Fair & Lovely[viii].”


HOW THE NAME CREATED A KIND OF DISCRIMINATION

Over the years, HUL’s Fair & Lovely has created an image for being a skin lightening cream. While there are many others players in the industry, Fair & Lovely has faced a lot of backlash on social media for its poor choice of brand name, advertisements and for propagating unrealistic beauty standards and stereotyping skin tones. However, its communication indicated otherwise.


Its advertisements from the late 90s and early 20s portrayed women of colour as failures, who aced their presentations or could only upload their profiles on matrimonial websites after applying a cream. They started by selling ‘gori twacha’ (fair skin) and moved to using alternatives like ‘nikhaar’ (glowing skin), which hinted that confidence is a by-product of fairness creams[ix].


Lloyld Mathias, Business Strategist and Angel Investor, said, I think this a positive move by HUL though long overdue should be welcomed. Any product or service that reinforces stereotypes, be it race or colour, is never a great proposition, and global corporations need to very sensitive to these issues.


I only wish this had happened much earlier and did not need a movement like ‘Black Lives Matter’ in the USA, and Johnson and Johnson’s withdrawing a similar offering to precipitate it. I believe the real solution is recasting the proposition, while taking the brand towards a more inclusive vision of beauty which could include holistic measures of healthy skin[x].”


CONCLUSION

The very foundation on which these brands are built is flawed. We have known it for years and it took 45 years and a raging anti-racial movement to force this move upon certain companies. How come there is a sudden awakening? This is not a change out of self-realization. Had these protests not caught momentum, such a move by HUL would have taken a few more decades to come[xi].


Trademark protection is an important aspect for any brand and in this case, we had applied for several trademarks in 2018. Some of them have received registration, while some applications are pending. We may choose to register other brand names too. We want to manage the unveiling of the new brand name carefully because we want to make sure that the market isn’t filled with counterfeit products that are unsafe. We will not be able to confirm what the new name will be,” HUL spokesperson said[xii].


To conclude, what I personally think that just dropping the word Fair from the product isn’t enough though it’s a very positive move on their part which was due a long time. These brands needs to recognize that fair is not always lovely. Every skin type is beautiful. Your personality matters and not your skin colour because your skin colour is genetic but your personality is unique. Be it male or female fairness cream brands. It was high time that they stopped propagating unrealistic beauty standards and stereotyping skin tone.


ENDNOTES [i]Not Fair, Just Lovely: Growing Up as a Dark-Skinned Indian, India.com (October 28, 2015, 12.11 AM IST), https://www.india.com/lifestyle/not-fair-just-lovely-growing-up-as-a-dark-skinned-indian-552131/ [ii]Namrata Singh, Hindustan Unilever to drop ‘Fair’ from ‘Fair & Lovely’, The Times of India (June 25, 2020, 17.46 IST), https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/hindustan-unilever-to-drop-fair-from-fair-lovely/articleshow/76620813.cms [iii] Ipsita Chakravarty, HUL dropping the ‘Fair’ from ‘Fair & Lovely’ is a change that only goes skin deep, Scroll.in (June 26, 2020, 09.34 am), https://scroll.in/article/965716/hul-dropping-the-fair-from-fair-and-lovely-is-a-change-that-only-goes-skin-deep [iv] Ayushi Aggarwal, Amidst Anti-Colourist Movement, Hindustan Unilever drops ‘Fair’ in ‘Fair & Lovely’, The Wire (June 25,2020), https://thewire.in/business/fair-and-lovely-hindustan-unilever [v] Trends Desk, This is how netizens reacted to HUL’s decision to drop ‘Fair’ from ‘Fair & Lovely’, The Indian Express (June 25,2020, 5.39 pm) https://indianexpress.com/article/trending/trending-in-india/netizens-welcome-huls-move-to-drop-fair-from-fair-lovely-6475828/ [vi] Unilever evolves skin care portfolio to embrace a more inclusive vision of beauty, Unilever (June 26,2020), https://www.unilever.com/news/press-releases/2020/unilever-evolves-skin-care-portfolio-to-embrace-a-more-inclusive-vision-of-beauty.html [vii] HUL’s Fair & Amp; Lovely Skin Care Brand to Be Known As Glow & Amp; Lovely, Business World (July 02, 2020), http://www.businessworld.in/article/HUL-s-Fair-amp-Lovely-skin-care-brand-to-be-known-as-Glow-amp-Lovely/02-07-2020-293415/ [viii] BW Online Bureau, HUL Plans To Drop ‘Fair’ From ‘Fair & Lovely’, Business World (June 25,2020),http://www.businessworld.in/article/HUL-Plans-To-Drop-Fair-From-Fair-Lovely-/25-06-2020-290975/ [ix] Rekha Balakrishnan, Nirandhi Gowthaman & Tenzin Norzom, Not fair, but still lovely – is India actually changing its ‘fairness’ narrative?, Your Story (July 02, 2020), https://yourstory.com/herstory/2020/07/fair-lovely-hul-colourism-body-positivity [x] Smriti Mishra, #BlackLivesMatter: From Unilever to PepsiCo and Johnson & Johnson, brands take a stand against racial discrimination, Financial Express (June 26, 2020, 10.00 am), https://www.financialexpress.com/brandwagon/blacklivesmatter-from-unilever-to-pepsico-and-johnson-johnson-brands-take-a-stand-against-racial-discrimination/2004663/ [xi] Karuna Sharma, Fair and Lovely to drop ‘Fair’ from its name but will that be enough to appeal to new-age consumers?, Advertising & Media Insider (June 26,2020, 10.52 IST), https://www.businessinsider.in/advertising/brands/article/fair-and-lovely-to-drop-fair-from-its-name-but-will-that-be-enough-to-appeal-to-new-age-consumers/articleshow/76631286.cms [xii] PTI, Move on 'Fair & Lovely', HUL seeks 'Glow & Lovely' trademark registration, The Times of India (June 25,2020, 10.50 pm), https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/move-on-fair-lovely-hul-seeks-glow-lovely-trademark-registration/articleshow/76631580.cms


ABOUT THE AUTHOR This blog has been authored by Amulya Anand who is a 3rd Year B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at National University of Study & Research in Law, Ranchi.

[PUBLICATION NO. TLG_BLOG_20_7604]

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