Unilever drops 'Fair' from Fair & Lovely brand name

In a major branding overhaul, Unilever’s Indian unit Hindustan Unilever is dropping the word “fair” from its "Fair & Lovely" products. The product has garnered a lot of heat over the years for playing up insecurities in skin tones and promoting negative stereotypes against darker skinned women.

In a statement, the company said that this is “the next step” in the evolution of its skin care portfolio and a step in the brand’s journey towards a more inclusive vision of beauty. It added that the new name is awaiting regulatory approvals and it expects to change the name in the next few months. According to the company, early last year, the brand’s communication moved away from the benefits of fairness, whitening and skin lightening, towards glow, even tone, skin clarity and radiance, which are holistic measures of healthy skin.

The brand also removed from Fair & Lovely’s packaging, words such as ‘fair/fairness’, ‘white/whitening’, and ‘light/lightening’ that could indicate a fairness-led transformation. The cameo with two faces showing shade transformation, as well as the shade guides were also removed from the packs. The company said it will continue to evolve its advertising, to feature women of different skin tones, representative of the variety of beauty across India.

Sanjiv Mehta, chairman and managing director, HUL said, “We are making our skin care portfolio more inclusive and want to lead the celebration of a more diverse portrayal of beauty. In 2019, we removed 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 holistic and inclusive measure of healthy skin.”

Fair & Lovely is not the first widely-used in Asia brand to change its branding recently. Colgate-Palmolive is reviewing its iconic toothpaste brand Darlie amidst race-related discussions. Its iconic green packaging features a smiling man in a top hat and in Chinese, the brand name translates to “black person toothpaste”.

Until 1989, the toothpaste was known as "Darkie". The move comes as protests and conversations over equality rise all over the world, and specifically in America. In Asia, Darlie controls 17% of the toothpaste market in China, 21% in Singapore, 28% in Malaysia, according to market research firm Euromonitor International. For Malaysia, in particular, the brand appointed FCB Kuala Lumpur last year as its creative, digital and social media agency of record for Malaysia following a pitch. The appointment is understood to be for two years.

In an article published last week, Marketing questioned industry players if names such as Fair & Lovely now need to be relooked to fit consumer sentiments of today. Experts in the branding arena said that with global spending on skin lightening products projected to triple to more than US$30 billion by 2024, this is another battle between ethics and economics. They added that companies bear a responsibility to review the appropriateness of profiting from such products in the context of a far more open and searching discourse on perceptions of race, ethnicity and skin colour. As such reviewing the name of the product and its associations and ensuring that any marketing communication not only avoids contentious inferences about the desirability of one skin tone over another, but actually educates that there is no basis for such beliefs is the bare minimum that should be expected.