Photo Credit: Adam Jones
Numerous skincare giants, including Pond’s, L’Oreal, Unilever, and Niea, have decided to stop using the terms “fairness” and “whitening” in their advertisements in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. In many parts of the West, businesses have delivered on their promises. However, skin-whitening products are still widely distributed throughout the world with the message that whiteness is a sign of beauty.
When the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum in 2020, a lot of businesses endorsed the cause. As a result of numerous well-known individuals and social scientists endorsing the advancements, they became the topic of conversation within the industry.
Multinational corporations swiftly responded to the request by releasing statements championing the movement. Consumers have noticed contradictions between what the companies have said and their ongoing marketing strategy for skin-whitening products, though. However, corporate executives promised to change their branding in response to consumer requests made to these businesses.
To give one example, Johnson & Johnson informed the public that it would no longer sell skin-whitening products in Asia and the Middle East. Meanwhile, L’Oreal announced that it would stop using the terms “fair” and “whitening” in its products. As a result, Unilever changed the name of its product from “Fair & Lovely” to “Glow & Lovely.”
Nivea’s parent company, Beiersdorf AG, pledged to stray away from the terms as well. According to the company’s pledge to the Black Lives Matter movement, they said in an interview that they will review their current marketing plans and product offerings.
Despite their modest size, these actions represent the first efforts made by major businesses to drive a shift in the way society views beauty. For a very long time, happiness, success, and beauty have been associated with fairness or whiteness.
Both the US and Europe can see these commitments. The Middle East, Africa, and Asia, however, are a different story.
Other countries are still seeing whitening ads
Serums and creams with “powerful whitening” abilities are consistently promoted by L’Oreal Singapore. Additionally, L’Oreal’s “White Activ” moisturizer is still sold by its customers in India.
Several businesses continue to use the words “white” and “beautiful” together in their product advertisements in China and Japan, continuing the same trend.
Inconsistencies with Unilever’s website have also been noted. Many have applauded the US-based website’s decision to avoid using the word “whitening.” Unilever’s website, which is targeted at Spanish-speaking users, still prominently displays “whitening.” Many skincare companies, especially in nations where the majority of the population has naturally tanned skin, have decided to only rebrand their products in the US.
Despite the name change, the advertisements for Unilever’s Glow & Lovely, formerly Fair & Lovely, still primarily display light-skinned models. That white skin is more attractive than any other skin tone is still conveyed subliminally by this. Block & White confidently advertises its “5-in-1 Whitening Essentials” in the Philippines even though the product is marketed as a sunblock.
The difficulty in dropping market approaches in the Indo-Pacific
According to Carlton University sociology professor Amina Mire, many skincare giants’ reluctance to alter their marketing tactics is motivated by the desire to maximize profit. Mire has been researching the skin-whitening market for more than 20 years and is fully cognizant that Western companies are find non-Western market “too lucrative” to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement.
She further said that Western markets would “not make any concessions — or at least very little concession — in the Asian market. They are cleaning up their websites … but on billboards and in their marketing, they know who their consumers are.”
Since the majority of customers in the non-Western market are interested in skin-whitening products, the company is frequently reluctant to drop its market strategy. According to Nivea, “Nivea products with whitening ingredients remain our biggest sellers throughout Asia,” and this is also true for many other businesses that commercialize to brown-skinned women in Southeast Asia and other Indo-Pacific regions.
Opinions expressed by CEO Weekly contributors are their own.