My earliest memories of TV ads was this girl, whose skin tone resembled mine, looking upset. She had been rejected by a man who had come to ‘see her’ with his family – to select her as his bride. She failed the test for being ‘too dark’. A good friend/or cousin hands her a tube of fair and lovely, which she uses diligently – and voila — the dark failure transforms into this fair girl who is now ‘saleable’ in the marriage market. The ad ended with the marriage ceremony.
The messaging was very clear – if you are dark, you will be left on the shelf. And, if you are fair you will find the man who wants to marry you. In a country obsessed with both fairness and marriage, the product worked wonders. There were many, many ads that were rolled out on this theme. All of them had the same storyline.
As time went by, there was some level of toning down of the message. The product was sold less as a tube of fairness that helps you get married, and more as a tube of confidence that helps the girl land a job. Obviously, the use of the product also helps the girl transform from a ‘traditional’ Indian girl to a ‘modern’ woman.
For years, Fair and Lovely sold it wares based on the Indian perception of fairness. The messaging was consistent. In a country made up for brown people – of various shades – you needed fair and lovely from keeping you from being rejected. You simply aren’t good enough on your own steam, therefore you need something else.
Now, in light of the Black Lives Matter #BLM movement in the USA, it looks like Unilever Ltd, the corporate that controls Hindustan Unilver (HUL) has had a change in mind around the fairness. positioning
“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 of Unilever’s beauty and personal care division.Reuters ’Unilever’s ‘Fair & Lovely’ to get makeover after backlash”
Will the re-branding of ‘Fair and Lovely’ to “Glow and Lovely’ really change anything? In my opinion, no. Ultimately the brand promise is to transform the woman who perceptually feels darker into someone who perceptually feels fairer. And, no matter what you call the brand – the promise that the brand will lighten your skin tone will remain.
Until such time Indians get over their obsession with skin tone colour, products that are based on this need will survive and thrive. You can’t blame a company for meeting a need, The more fundamental change needs to be to see how we as a society look at people with different skin tones and accept them as they are, without wanting to change them. Just because Fair and Lovely has rebranded will not stop people from advertising for a ‘fair bride’ for their son.