Fair & Lovely is a remarkable product of Unilever. This brand falls in “Personal Care Product”. The brand promises the benefit of “making complexion fairer over a period of six weeks”. The target segment for the brand is middle class women who want fairer skin. The message is conveyed in ads where women using the brand become fairer and get ahead in life by attracting men and jobs. Later on, the range of the products under the brand is extended to include: Fairness cold cream, Anti-Marks cream, Oil control Fairness Gel Cream for Deep Skin, Fairness Soap and also men’s range: “Fair & Lovely Menz Active”.
Fair & Lovely, the largest selling skin whitening cream in the world, is clearly doing well. First launched in 1975, Fair & Lovely held a commanding 70% share of the skin whitening market in Pakistan by 2005 but this time only 35%. Because of customers who use its product regularly, Fair & Lovely has successfully launched new product formulations from lotions to gels and soaps. Fair & Lovely is marketed by Unilever in 40 countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, with Pakistan being the largest single market. Fair & Lovely were certainly doing well financially in past but now needs serious reformation of its branding strategies.
Fair & Lovely claims to offer dramatic whitening results in just six weeks. A package sold in market displays one face six times, in an ever-whitening progression, and includes before and after photos of a woman who presumably used the product. On its website the company calls its product “the miracle worker” which is proven to deliver one to three shades of change. Ironically, despite the obsession with fair skin, dark skin is actually healthier and less vulnerable to skin diseases than lighter skin. Dark skin contains more melanin which protects it from the sun and hence, reduces the incidences of skin disease. Whitening creams pose a special risk in developing countries where dermatologists and general medical practitioners are typically not the first to be consulted on the treatment of skin diseases.
Fair & Lovely’s heavily aired television commercials typically contain the message of a depressed woman with few prospects that gains a brighter future by either attaining a boyfriend/husband or a job after becoming markedly fairer, which is emphasized in the advertisements with a silhouette of her face lined up dark to light. It is interesting to note that in the print and TV advertisements, as the woman becomes ‘whiter’ she also becomes noticeably happier! Such advertisements have attracted much public criticism, especially from women’s groups at every place.
Unilever has countered the criticism it has received for its Fair & Lovely advertisement by saying that complexion is one of the Asian standards of beauty and that it is a dimension of personal grooming: “A well-groomed person usually has an advantage in life”. However, it seems that Unilever is not living up to these professed highest standards, at least, in the case of Fair & Lovely. Mostly on corporate social responsibility (CSR) companies are far from most large public companies, “CSR is little more than a cosmetic treatment.” Maybe Unilever needs to more actively listen to its customers and civil society to positively enhance its “Brand image”.
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