India's Hindustan Unilever decided to drop the word 'fair' from its hugely popular fairness cream brand 'Fair & Lovely'. The decision is a right one, taken in the wake of the worldwide realization that iconic global brands have been entrenching immensely flawed racial prototypes through their products. However, the decision to drop fair from the cosmetic product will cost the company badly, analysts have said.

"Purely from a business perspective, there will be uncertainty as consumer acceptance will hold the key ... We recall around 2012, HUL changed the Fair & Lovely cream colour from white to pink along with a packaging change, which met with a push back from the consumer," Jefferies analysts Vivek Maheshwari and Kunal Shah said, Bloomberg reported.

Unilever Logo
The logo of Unilever is seen at the headquarters in Rotterdam, Netherlands August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

Fairness in Dark Continent

The foreboding reflected in the share market on Friday. Shares of Hindustan Unilever dropped nearly one percent in the Bombay Stock Exchange. Investors have apparently seized on the fact that Fair & Lovely brought more than 10 percent of the profits to the group while accounting for about 6 percent of revenues.

The melanin-suppressing face cream earns a whopping $500 million in annual revenue from India for Unilever Plc, the Anglo-Dutch conglomerate. The Indian arm of the company said it will remove "fair," "whitening" and "lightening" from Fair & Lovely's packaging. It also said it will feature women of all skin tones in all marketing materials.

The face application has been hugely popular for decades in a 'dark continent' where the filmy representation of beauty has been an 'aspirational' white, pushing millions of young people to the subliminal belief that a light complexion is a foremost requirement for being 'beautiful'.

It's not clear how the product will be branded going forward. HUL Chairman Sanjiv Mehta has reportedly said the company has been considering rebranding the product. The Economic Times reported that HUL applied for a new brand titled 'Glow & Lovely' last week, as per information sourced from the website of India's Trade Marks Registry.

"We always believe in social justice as an organisation. But this is something which we have been planning and we have done a huge amount of research on. These are not changes that you do immediately," Mehta told ET.

Pressure on Competition

HUL's decision to cut its implied ties with a legacy of racial prejudice will also impact nearly half a dozen competitors in the Indian market. Emami, a major cosmetic brand that sells popular fairness cream Fair & Handsome, said it would most likely rebrand the product.

Other major fairness creams in the huge Indian market are Fem Fairness Bleach by Dabur, Power White from Garnier and Fairever from CavinKare.