Hindustan Unilever (HUL), the country's largest consumer goods company, replaced the word 'fair' with 'glow', when it recently initiated a rebranding of Fair & Lovely, its Rs 2,000-crore brand. The deceptively simple solution had much thought going behind it.
The company had been marketing Fair & Lovely’s product attributes using words such as ‘radiance’ and ‘glow’ for over a year before the actual name change took place. When the rebranding happened, replacing the word 'fair' with 'glow' wasn't difficult, it said. Consumers were ready for the shift.
Yet, some brand experts argue that taking 'fair' or 'white' out of fairness and whitening creams leaves most of them with no unique selling proposition. Some other experts say there is no harm in it, given that the market has evolved from a binary definition of beauty. 'Inclusive beauty' is the new normal, they say, and marketers will interpret it the way they deem fit.
"There is a very vocal audience out there that is challenging gender stereotypes. Marketers have to respond to it and they are doing it by using surrogates and synonyms," says Santosh Desai, managing director (MD) and chief executive officer (CEO), Futurebrands India.
"The irony is that the fairness market itself will not vanish because there are still many users of it, at least in India. It is the category codes that have changed," he said.
Estimated to be Rs 5,000 crore in size and used by both men and women in India, the fairness category for years has been criticised for promoting gender discrimination.
Fair & Lovely is both the leader and pioneer of fairness creams in the country, having launched in 1975, and has borne the brunt of the controversy surrounding the category. Last week, Godrej Consumer (GCPL) said that it was dropping the word 'fair' from its 'FairGlow' soap in keeping with the times.
Earlier, L'Oreal said it would drop the words 'white', 'light' and 'fair' from its range. Nivea said it was reviewing its product portfolio, while Johnson & Johnson chose to exit the fairness category altogether and Emami said that it was evaluating a name change of its Fair & Handsome brand.
Since then, Emami and HUL having been fighting in court over the use of the trademark 'Glow & Handsome' for their men's fairness range, respectively. Emami declines comment for this story, saying the matter is sub judice. But Sunil Kataria, CEO, India and SAARC, GCPL, said it had rebranded 'FairGlow' as 'FreshGlow'.
"FairGlow is a marginal brand for us. It is not among our priorities. We have not invested in it for the last decade because we did not want to play in the fairness category. And, we don’t plan to invest in it going forward," he said.
While the fairness category is low on GCPL's priority list, for those for whom the segment matters, using synonyms can be challenging. "Older consumers may still accept the change because the product is not undergoing a formulation overhaul, it is merely a cosmetic shift. But new consumers may not know this. They may look at other options, since category codes such as radiance and glow have far more competitors than fairness," says N Chandramouli, CEO of brand advisory firm TRA Research.An HUL spokesperson said: “Glow & Lovely is now starting to become available at retail outlets and our initial announcer campaign, which is a reiteration of the message that Fair & Lovely is now ‘Glow & Lovely’, went live on September 1. We had launched the proposition of ‘HD Glow’ last year, and it was well received by consumers. Also, ‘Glow’ indicates what the product offers, which is smooth, even, and clear skin that is well-cared-for and healthy. As we move forward in our journey of rebranding, Glow & Lovely’s upcoming campaign will be reflective of our philosophy of positive beauty.”
HUL Chairman and MD Sanjiv Mehta had said in June that Fair & Lovely had metamorphosed into a brand signifying "women's empowerment" as opposed to a "closet mate", who could help improve a woman's marital prospects.
"The advertising narrative has shifted from the coy bride (of the 1970s and 1980s) to the confident young wedding planner in today's commercials who has no qualms of looking and feeling good, even as she goes about organising the weddings of others," he said.
The packaging had also reflected the change, he said, with the cameo of two faces as well as the shade guides on the back of the pack making way for an "inclusive" measure of healthy skin.
This report has been updated to include the HUL spokesperson's comment.