Global Beauty Brands Ditch “White” to Come out Clean in Dark Times

Jul 30, 2020 | 360, BEAUTY, BIZ, CULTURE, India, NEWS, US

The beauty and skincare industry is worst hit not just by the Covid-19 pandemic but also by the aftermath of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Global beauty brands scrambled to reposition themselves to align with the “movements”. 

Skin-lightening products are revamping their brand positioning strategies to influence change in mindsets by becoming more inclusive, embracing diversity and celebrating ‘people of color’, but will it work?

Through time immemorial we have been told that “Beauty lies skin deep.” However, life’s irony conveys the exact opposite. Prejudiced societies believe “white” is symbolic of peace, success and prosperity, and black is regarded as dark and negative by regressive mindsets.

Black in itself is not a color, and so is White not a color either. Black is just the absence of light and unlike all other colors as white that are reflections of light, black is natural. In a technical sense, black and white are not even colors, they’re just shades. 

According to Adobe, “What you see as a pigment with a black color or a light with a white color actually contains various light or dark colors. Nothing can be pure white or pure black, except unfiltered sunlight or the depths of a black hole.” 

Going by this definition of color, and dating back in time to the history of human civilization, it’s disheartening to learn that unfairness towards the Blacks and the Browns, and the in-between shades continues to prevail through centuries. 

The White Supremacists: The Color Divide 

Even today, people are judged on the basis of their skin tone and complexion and denied opportunities to grow. It seems the supremacy of Whites’ reigns with racism penetrated at the roots of culture, which has never evolved in time to sync with the modern-age values of seeking beyond the “fair (er)” self.  

It’s hard to stay blinded to the sugar coated euphemistic ways in human speech and behavior, camouflaging the naked truth when referring to the blacks, the browns and the in-between shades as “the people of color.”  

Cashing on the shady propaganda, the disguised nature of truth and the dreamy desire of aspiring snowwhites’, consumerism soon caught up and so did the skin-lightening, skin-whitening brands emerge, products competing with each other, tapping into new markets and offering tall promises of perhaps altering your pigmentation levels, reducing the tan effect and changing your skin tone to one-shade lighter or “fair (er)”. Errr!  

Little did the fairness cream brands envision then that the human mindsets will evolve in time to embrace “people of color”, value diversity across cultures and become more inclusive in nature.  

Just wondering, if a change in racist and supremacist ideologies demanded evoking people ire to stir a movement and shaken up the system of glorified whites in positions of power? Thus, bringing to light racism on ground in the new-age America – with the #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) campaign.  

Effects of #BlackLivesMatter on the Skincare Industry 

Combating the backlash of this BLM movement was the multibillion-dollar skin lightening industry witnessing drop in sales and revenue growth over the past few months. Before the public rage got out of control to bring in irreparable collateral damage to dampen future brand prospects of skin-lightening products, the brands decided to opt for an overhaul and repositioning strategy.  

Hindustan Unilever’s (HULs) Fair & Lovely, Nivea, Procter & Gamble, Emami and Garnier held no second thoughts, but to go for a brand makeover that involved change in brand name, in certain instances, as with ‘Fair & Lovely’ India’s famous fairness cream brand from the HUL stable since 1975. The brand ditched ‘fair’ from its brand name and changed it to ‘Glow & Lovely’ now.   

“The world is becoming more inclusive with every passing day. Brands that divide will have a difficult future. The idea of removing ‘Fair’ from Fair & Lovely is building the brand for the future and its sustenance. Preventing it from the backlash that it may face in the days to come, perhaps it went for a brand overhauling exercise, but I don’t think it is because of the BLM’s anti-racist advocacy. This move may at its best confirm the brand positioning for the future of being inclusive,” says Ajay Kumar, Founder and CEO, Cognigix.  

Using “white” and “fair”, did the Skincare Brands Intend to Discriminate?  

While the ads from the brand always associated the word ‘fair’ with ‘fairness’ of complexion and skin tone, Arun S, an IT project lead believes, “Fair, isn’t just the skin tone, it’s about being just and equitable.” That was as far as his ideals of a make-believe ‘fair’ world could travel. And now when the word ‘fair’ was ditched by the brand, he optimistically believed once again, “When everyone is fair, the world will glow and be lovely.” Perhaps reasoning it out on behalf of the brand for the ‘Glow & Lovely’ of today. 

Echoing a somewhat similar belief, Dheeraj Singh, a techpreneur said, “Associating darkness with dark colors defies the nature of darkness, because it has no color. So does, Fair doesn’t mean fair or white.. it’s equality and fairness. I don’t think rebranding was necessary for the brand. It’s unfortunate that the brand was projected on the basis of color.” 

Rajamohan Chandirasekaran, an agro-entrepreneur thought if a brand is using fair, then “it should create a spinoff story around it, and turn it into a positive one instead of a dark focus.” He further brought to light, perhaps a claim made by the fairness cream brand offering sunscreen effect that prevents skin from tanning, thus preserving the natural skin tone of the user should be the focus and not the skin-lightening factor.”  

Considering most people think “fair” could also mean fair-minded and unprejudiced, the brand message speaks for it otherwise. Would it be safe to say that the brand overhaul now is paying the price for seeding guilt within souls, by cashing on the discriminative nature of prejudiced ideas of beauty?  

Will the Rebranding Exercise Affect Sales? 

The challenge that lies ahead for skincare brands, who have removed skin-whitening and lightening phrases from their products is, how will the new rebranding exercise work?  

As regards Fair & Lovely, “It might take longer than the usual cycle of rebranding for Glow and Lovely to reach where they aspire to be. The prevailing mindset needs to change, which revolves around the way we read “black and white”. Even today, people wear black bands to show protest, white coats to signify clean and positive personality. We call it a black spot if there’s something wrong. This mindset needs to change to be able to accept dark skin,” opines Mahesh B Khilare, Lead Program Manager for multi-geography Outsourcing programs.  

Those who hopped into the brandwagon of change, let’s hope ditching “white” “light” and “fair” from products work in your favour. Rajamohan Chandirasekaran ideates, “Skin-lightening creams should continue selling without focusing on the need to rebrand itself, just by adding a disclaimer on it. Much like alcohol and cigarettes that were banned earlier by the Indian government, but now continue to be sold freely with warning statements.” 

Nonetheless, we continue to live in a color-biased prejudiced world. Would these rebranding strategies help seed non-discriminatory thinking?

Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.