Rebranding to reflect progressive sensibility on race, skin complexion only meaningful if it tackles underlying prejudices
The Black Lives Matter protests in the US and the country’s systemic racism have spurred companies and brands to do a quick assessment if they are unintentionally projecting racial discrimination or hurting racial harmony, and even project themselves as explicitly anti-racism. So, Land O’ Lakes has removed the caricature of a Native American woman from its butter packaging, the music group Lady Antebellum will now go with a shorter name, Lady A, given “antebellum”—ante bellum in Latin meaning “before war”—assumed racial connotations in the US since it denoted the period before the American Civil War that freed the Black Americans of slavery. Nike and others are kicking off advertising campaigns to show support with anti-racism movement. In India, after years of activists rallying against fairness products, HUL has decided to rebrand Fair & Lovely. The effort may, however, end up being perceived as little more than brownwashing, since the product will perhaps never escape being tagged as a “fairness” product.
But, why single out HUL alone, the entire product range, promising “glow”, “radiance”, etc, sometimes going by ridiculous nomenclature like “snow cream”, keys into the consumer’s desire for “fairness”, that has been marketed to her as the standard of beauty. So, “fairness” products, whatever branding they hide under, will always tell the consumer that fairness/glow/radiance is what she, or he (since there are fairness/whitening creams and face washes targeted at “men’s skin”), should aspire to. So, one ends up asking what does a rebranding exercise mean? Would it mean women looking to answer matrimonial ads demanding “fair-skinned” brides would choose something else? J&J is pulling out its fairness products from the Indian market; could that be an example worth following? A free market will allow for such products, but are we really free if our sense of self-worth stems from what the complexion of our skin is?