The decision taken by Hindustan Unilever to rebrand the Fair & Lovely face cream won't do any good unless the product is discontinued altogether, said Sunil Agarwal, Chairman of RSH Global (the maker of popular Joy Personal Care).
The recent re-branding of HUL’s Fair & Lovely to ‘Lovely’ came just after the Johnson and Johnson declaration that it will stop manufacturing skin lightening lotions in India. Others, including L'oreal, have also announced similar rebranding exercises.
In a conversation with BestMediaInfo.com, Agarwal said that with changing times, it is imperative for brands to re-brand in order to stay relevant.
However, he said, re-branding is not any solution in itself.
“In the case of HUL, why not discontinue the product altogether? Is there a change in the ingredients of the product? What is the point of rebranding if the same product will continue to be sold in the market for the same purpose?” he said.
He explained that although the re-branding move was inevitable in the foreseeable future, it has been quickened in light of the current #BlackLivesMatter movement in the US.
The whole concept behind such products was that “fair” or “white” is somehow superior to all colours and when the concept itself is (very rightly) collapsing across the globe, it does not make any sense for the product to continue standing.
Agarwal said that the sudden decision of Johnson & Johnson to stop shipping skin lightening products permanently has come as a surprise for Unilever and they are finding themselves on the back foot for the first time in the category, after having been marginalised in the marketing battle.
He says other such brands would also follow similar strategies and re-brand their products, if not completely eliminate them from their portfolio.
“Had Unilever discontinued the category, then it would have been an interesting question for the other brands to answer,” he said.
Although skincare brands have already been raising their voices against such problematic beauty standards, Agarwal believes the steps taken by beauty product brands would add weight to the conversation and undoubtedly trigger a change in the entire industry.
“The products from other brands would continue to be available, however, with a muted or tweaked communication approach.”
As long as there is a demand in the market, Agarwal believes that the companies are going to sell such products under some name or another. It is only when the customers stop buying such products can they be truly eliminated from the market.
“However, for brands, including such products in their portfolio speaks volumes about the brand’s vision and identity. Customers of today and of the future will not want to be associated with a brand that propagates the superiority of fairness in any manner. For brands, this means that they must reinvent from their very core. Promote nourished and glowing skin, not a fair and lovely face! Talk about proper skincare routines for healthy skin and a happy you. Put a full stop on propagating ideas that fair = superior and fairness = ultimate solution,” he added.
Customers are evolving and with them, it is rather imperative that the marketing communications must evolve as well. Customers are not afraid to hit back at brands with toxic messages and the rise of social media has given a platform for customers to share their opinions about brands and their products.
Keeping this in mind, brands must realise that listening to customers has become ever so important.
Customers expect the brands they associate with to be responsible towards the world we live in. They want to know that the brands are aware of and acknowledge the issues facing the society. And, therefore, he said that the brands must keep this in mind while designing their communication strategies.
He said the move by HUL and J&J will be seen by customers as their part in furthering the #BlackLivesMatter movement by means of eliminating the notion of white supremacy.
Talking about RSH Global, he said that the company is a firm believer in “beautiful by nature”.
“The message, which also happens to be our brand’s tag line, has always been at the core of any product that we developed and any marketing campaign we conceptualised. We believe every woman is beautiful in her own way and that beauty only needed to be maintained, not transformed,” he explained.
The company’s advertising campaigns have aimed to break beauty stereotypes that only be a particular size can be beautiful, beautiful women cannot be smart, dark skinned women aren’t beautiful, etc.