The old advertising adage goes, “All publicity, is good publicity.” I have seen many communication professionals take this as a gospel truth. However, companies which are sensitive to customers’ needs and perceptions always watchful of the holy trinity of correct communications, namely “Culture, customers and creativity.” Let’s take a closer look at the name change case of “Fair and Lovely”. Almost three decades ago, when I was at the Lever’s group, we faced pushbacks for the “Fair and lovely” brand even then. However, popular customer sentiment in India was hugely in favour of the brand. It was popular knowledge that several leading Indian film actors and actresses of the day were regular users of the product. The cultural and societal dynamics of the day allowed advertisements for such products, and this thought process exists in India even today. One regularly sees matrimonial advertisements seeking “fair” brides or grooms. Skin complexion bias is a known and tolerated cultural norm, and the communication of the brands reflected this since many decades.
Cut to 2020, and there is a global uprising sweeping the globe on issues related to racism. The anti-racism protests and activism that were sparked from the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has reignited several debates, and many of these discussions are centered around marketing and imagery that is used to sell products. In this supercharged atmosphere, it comes as no surprise that brands are picking up the cues of the changing feelings and perceptions of customers.
This is perhaps the context to understand Hindustan Unilever Ltd. decision to re-name an entire best-selling range of ‘Fair & Lovely’ products as ‘Glow & Lovely’. Additionally, the company has also decided to remove nomenclature that propagates racial stereotypes. While the name might have been socially acceptable in a bygone era, it is clearly not so now, and the company has quite correctly take the stance to change all names that might not be acceptable for the worldview of consumers of today.
The other aspect of responsibility by brands is correct product information so that there are no misleading claims. The huge furore over the launch of Patanjali brand “Coronil” was due to the fact that the company had first given the impression that the product was a “cure” for COVID. Government agencies immediately questioned Patanjali’s claim to have developed a drug to cure COVID-19. Under pressure from regulatory authorities the brand changed the positioning of the product to that of an “immunity booster”. The above case is not an isolated one. According to news reports the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has flagged off 90 advertisements since April for violating the AYUSH Ministry guidelines and making claims related to Covid-19 across media platforms in May. This proves that there is an urgent need for business self-regulation as well as regulatory oversight.
Other advertisement campaigns which faced flack in the media were of cricket hero M S Dhoni, in a campaign for Matrimony.com campaign for claims could not be adequately substantiated, and there was also a mention of the fact that Dhoni appeared to not have done any due diligence prior to endorsement. Telecom major Vodafone Idea also faced some heat for its ‘REDX’ campaign for misleading information in their advertisements and lack of appropriate disclaimers.
On a positive note, there are also several instances of responsible behavior as well. MAI (the Multiplex Association of India) and the major cinema brands Inox, PVR and Cinepolis have all taken steps to create a set of safety SOP’s that can be benchmarked with the best in the world. They have factored in safety aspects for customers and employees. This is a significant initiative which can provide a global standard safety net for customers. In the conditions of the day, this behavior is not only responsible but also admirable.
So, summing up the maxims of articulated above, we see that the quintessential struggle for brands is essentially their effort to create a positive narrative about the brand while conforming to the prevailing cultural and ethical sensitivities of the day. I and my team at Consocia Advisory, are working with various associations, which are trying to rebuild positive brand narratives and work proactively with the government to build lockdown exit strategies for better functioning. A key tip we always share with clients is to keep in mind the socio cultural sensitivities and challenges while trying to frame the communication plans for any brand.
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