Case 2.1 Cultural Norms: Fair & Lovely and
Fair 6 Lovely, a branded product of Hindustan Unilever Ltd
(HUL - formerly called Hindustan Lever), is touted as a
cosmetic that lightens skin colour. On its website (www.hul.
co.in) the company called its product, 'the miracle worker',
which is 'proven to deliver one to three shades of change!
While tanning is the rage in Western countries, skin- lightening
treatments are popular in Asia.
According to industry sources, the top-selling skin
lightening cream in India is Fair & Lovely from Hindustan
Unilever, followed by CavinKare'sFairever brands. HUL's Fair
& Lovely brand was the undisputed monarch of the | market
with a 90 per cent share until CavinKare Ltd (GKL) launched
Fairever. In just two years, the Fairever brand gained an
impressive 15 per cent market share. HUL's share of market for
the Fair 6 Lovely line generates about $60 1 million annually.
The product sells for about 23 rupees ($0.29) for a 25-gram
tube of cream.
I The rapid growth of CavinKare'sFairever (www.cavinkare. [
com) brand prompted HUL to increase its advertising effort and
to launch a series of ads depicting a 'fairer girl gets the boy'
theme. One advertisement featured a financially | strapped
father lamenting his fate, saying, 'If only I had a son! while his
dark-skinned daughter looks on, helpless and demoralized
because she can’t bear the financial responsibility of her family.
Fast-forward and Plain Jane has been transformed into a
gorgeous light-skinned woman through the use of a 'fairness
cream', Fair 6 Lovely. Now clad in a miniskirt, the woman is a
successful flight attendant and can take her father to dine at a
five-star hotel. She's happy and so is her father.
In another ad two attractive young women are sitting in a
bedroom: one has a boyfriend and, consequently, is happy.
The darker-skinned woman, lacking a boyfriend, is not happy.
Her friend’s advice? Use a bar of soap to wash away the dark
skin that's keeping men from flocking to her.
HUL’s series of ads provoked CavinKare Ltd to counter
with an ad that takes a dig at HUL's Fair & Lovely ad.
CavinKare's ad has a father-daughter duo as the protagonists,
with the father shown encouraging the daughter to be an
achiever irrespective of her complexion. CavinKare maintained
that the objective of its new commercial is not to take a dig at
Fair & Lovely but to 'reinforce Fairever's positioning!
'We have noticed attempts by Fair & Lovely to blur our
positioning by changing its communication platfotm from
Wanting to get married" to "achievement’! the principal Fairever
theme. Since we don't have the spending power to match HUl,
a tactical way for us to respond is to reinforce our brand
positioning and the commercial will be aired until the
company's ''objective'' is achieved,' a CavinKare official said.
Skin colour is a powerful theme in India as well as much of
Asia where a lighter colour represents a higher status. While
Americans and Europeans flock to tanning salons, many
across Asia seek ways to have 'fair' complexions.
(Culturally fair skin is associated with positive values that relate
to class and beauty. One Indian lady commented that when she
was growing up, her mother forbade her to go outdoors. She
was not trying to keep her daughter out of trouble but was trying
to keep her skin from getting dark.
Brahmins, the priestly caste at the top of the social
hierarchy, are considered fair because they ^ traditionally
stayed inside, poring over books. The undercaste at the bottom
of the ladder
Part 6 Case Studies Part 2
are regarded as the darkest people because they customarily
worked in the searing sun. Ancient Hindu scriptures and modern
poetry eulogise women endowed with skin made out of white
Skin colour is closely identified with caste and is laden with
symbolism. Pursue any of the 'grooms and brides wanted' ads in
newspapers or on the web that families use to arrange suitable
alliances and you will see that most potential grooms and their
families are looking for ’fair’ brides; some are progressive
enough to invite responses from women belonging to a different
caste. These ads, hundreds of which appear in India's daily
newspapers, reflect attempts to solicit individuals with the
appropriate religion, caste, regional ancestry, professional and
educational qualifications, and, frequently, skin colour. Even in
the growing numbers of ads that announce 'caste no bar', the
adjective 'fair' regularly precedes professional qualifications.
Bollywood (India's Hollywood) glorifies conventions on
beauty by always casting a fair-skinned actress in the role of
heroine, surrounded by darker extras. Women want to use
whiteners because it is 'aspirational', like losing weight.
Even the gods supposedly lament their dark complexion Krishna sings plaintively, 'Radhakyoongori, main kyoonkala?’
(Why is Radha so fair when I'm dark?) - a skin deficient in
melanin (the pigment that determines the skin's brown colour) is
an ancient predilection. More than 3500 years ago, Charaka,
the famous sage, wrote about herbs that could help make the
Indian dermatologists maintain that fairness products
cannot truly work as they only reach the upper layers of the skin
and so do not affect melanin production. Nevertheless,
'hope springs eternal' and for some Fair & Lovely is a 'miracle
worker! The last time I went to my parents' home, I got
complements on my fair skin from everyone,' one user gushes.
But for others, there is only disappointment. One 26-year-old
working woman has been a regular user for the past eight years
but to no avail. 'I should have turned into Snow White by now
but my skin is still the same wheatish colour.'
The number of Indians of the opinion that lighter skin is
more beautiful may be shrinking. Sumit Isralni, a 22-year- old
hair designer in his father's salon, thinks things have changed in
the last two years, at least in India's most cosmopolitan cities,
Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. Women now 'prefer their own
complexion, their natural way,' Isralni says; he prefers a more
'Indian beauty' himself. 'I won’t judge my wife on how fair her
complexion is."Sunita Gupta, a beautician in the same salon, is
more critical. 'It's just foolishness!’ she exclaims. The premise
of the ads that women could not become airline attendants if
they are dark-skinned was wrong, she said. 'Nowadays people
like black beauty: it is a truism that women, especially in the
tropics, desire to be a shade fairer no matter what their skin
colour. Although, unlike the approach used in India,
advertisements elsewhere usually show how to use the
product and how it works.
Advertising: (next column)
HUL launched its television ad campaign to promote Fair &
Lovely in December 2001 and withdrew it in February 2003
amid severe criticism of its portrayal of women. Activists
argued that one of the messages the company sends through
its 'air hostess' demonstrating the preference for a son who
would be able to take on the financial responsibility
parents - is especially harmful in a country such as India
where gender discrimination is rampant
offence is perpetuating a culture of discrimination in a society
where 'fair' is synonymous with 'beautiful' AIDWA (All India
Democratic Women's Association) lodged a complaint in March
and April 2002 with HUL about its offensive ads but Hindustan
Unilever failed to respond.
The women's association then appealed to the National
Human Rights Commission alleging that the ad demeaned
women. AIDWA objected to three things: (1) the ads were
racist. (2) they were promoting son preference, and (3) they
were insulting to working women. 'The way they portrayed the
young women who, after using Fair & Lovely, became
attractive and therefore lands a job suggested that the main
qualification fnra woman to get a job is the way she looks.'
The Human Rights Commission passed AIDWA's complaints
on to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, which said
the campaign violated the Cable and Television Networks Act
of 1995 - provisions in the Act State that no advertisement shall
be permitted that derides any race, caste, colour, creed and
nationality' and that 'Women must not be portrayed in a manner
that emphasizes passive, submissive qualities and encourages
them to play a subordinate secondary role in the family and
society.’ The government issued notices of the complaints to
HUL. After a year-long campaign led by the AIDWA, Hindustan
Unilever Limited discontinued two of its television
advertisements for Fair 6 Lovely fairness cold cream in March
Shortly after pulling its ads off the air, and, coincidentally, on
International Women’s Day, HUL launched its 'Fair 6 Lovely
Foundation', vowing to 'encourage economic empowerment of
women across India' by providing resources in education and
business. Millions of women 'who, though immensely talented
and capable, need a guiding hand to help them take the leap
forward'. Presumably into a fairer future.
• HUL sponsored career fairs in over 20 cities across the
country, offering counseling in as many as 110 careers. It: j
supported 100 rural scholarships for women students passing
their 10th grade, a professional course for beauticians, and a
three-month Home Healthcare Nursing Assistant’s course
catering to young women between the ages 18 and 30.
According to HUL, the Fair &Lovely Academy for Home Care
Nursing Assistants offers a unique training opportunity for
young women who possess no entry-level skills and, therefore,
are not employable in the new economy job market. The Fair <5
Lovely Foundation plans to serve as a catalyst for the economic
empowerment of women across India. The Fair 6 Lovely
Foundation will showcase the achievements of these women not
only to honor them, but also to set an example for other women to
A few facts about HUL taken from www.hul.in:
Hindustan Unilever Limited is India’s largest Packaged Mass
Consumption Goods company. We are leaders in home and
personal care products and food and beverages including such
products as ponds and pepsodent.
We seek to ‘meet everyday needs to people every where-to
anticipate the aspirations of our customers and customers to
respond creatively and competitively with branded products
and services which raise the quality of life’. It is this purpose
which inspires us to build brands. Over the past 70 years, we
have introduces about 100 brands.
Fair & Lovely has been specially designed and proven to
deliver one to three shades of change in most people. Also, its
sunscreen system is specially optimized for Indian skin.
Indian skin unlike Caucasian skin tends to tan rather than burn and hence, requires a different
combination of UVA & UVB sunscreens.
The fairness cream is marketed in over 38 countries through HUL exports and local Unilever
companies and is the largest selling skin lightening cream in the world.
The brand today offers substantive range of products to consumers including Fair & Lovely
fairness reviving lotion, Fair & Lovely fairness cold cream and Fair & Lovely fairness soap.
Some information on CavinKare taken from
We shall achieve growth by continuously offering unique products and services that would give customers utmost
satisfaction and thereby be a role model."
In 15 years (2012) we will be a hundred times our current turnover.
Values and beliefs of Cavinkare:
The company values honesty and truthfulness in all its interactions and shall be fair in all its dealings with people inside
and outside the organization. We will fulfil all promises and commitments.
The company highly values, all efforts that lead to high standards in every day work and results. We shall attempt to be
the best in class in everything we choose to work on. We shall encourage any individual or collective effort in
The company values innovative approaches and innovative solutions in our regular work life. We will always look for
newer, better ways of doing things; we will seek new ideas to solve problems; we will experiment with new concepts,
ideas and solutions to deliver unique products and services.
The company believes that trust is an important ingredient fir effective functioning within the organization and with the
outside world. While we shall protect our legitimate business interests, we would also approach the people issues and
associations with straight forwardness, optimism and positive outlook.
Is it ethical to sell a product that is at best only mildly effective? Discuss
Is it ethical to exploit cultural norms and values to promote products? Discuss
Is the advertising of Fair & Lovely demeaning to women or is it portraying a product not too dissimilar to
cosmetics in general?
Will HUL’s Fair& Lovely foundation counter charges made by AIDWA? Discuss
In light if AIDWA’s charges how would you suggest Fair & Lovely promote its products? Discuss. Would you
response be different if Fairever continues to use “fairness” as a theme of its promotion? discuss
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