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HUL MD & CEO's post on Dove's #StopTheBeautyTest campaign evokes mixed reactions

Mehta's post was called out for hypocrisy in light of HUL’s other flagship brand, Glow & Lovely.

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Mumbai: Dove’s latest campaign questioning society on the beauty-based judgements that young girls are subjected to has been garnering attention, not always for the right reasons however. As was probably discovered by the Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) MD & CEO Sanjiv Mehta when he recently shared a post on the campaign on a social networking platform.

Sharing the brand film on LinkedIn Mehta wrote: "Ahead of #InternationalDaughtersDay pleased to launch phase 2 of our #StopTheBeautyTest movement. Our new brand communication sheds light on the scrutiny and low self-esteem young girls encounter in society because of unrealistic beauty norms."

"As a father to two lovely daughters, I feel deeply for the cause. You would agree that our children's formative years are critical, and if done right, we set them up for life. Therefore, we must create an environment where girls can feel more confident about themselves and focus on who they are as individuals, not how they look," he continued.

Let us pause, reflect and eliminate beauty biases that prevent India's daughters from achieving their full potential, Mehta added before concluding with the plea "Please let us all #StopTheBeautyTest."

While several netizens lauded him and Dove for taking up the cause of women by asking consumers to confront beauty stereotypes laid down by society, there were other voices which questioned HUL’s seemingly contradictory stance when it came to its other flagship brand Glow & Lovely (formerly Fair & Lovely).

"Fascinating ad from the company that makes Fair & Lovely," pointed out a user, referring to the 'skin-lightening’ cosmetic product of Hindustan Unilever introduced to the Indian market in 1975. The user, Savitha Rao, further demanded to know if Unilever would make an ad on how so many companies are marketing products by making the customer feel inadequate. "For decades, Fair & Lovely promoted a solution to dark complexions, which was shown as a problem," she added.

The film was also criticised for showing parents and teachers in a bad light ‘to sell a soap.’

"A campaign ad that shows hardworking mothers, grandmothers, and teachers as the real villains, pushing for unrealistic beauty standards, while not just absolving oneself, but branding oneself as the torchbearer of change. I am yet to come across a better example of hypocrisy," declared a netizen.

LinkedIn user Anirudh Kunte while being appreciative of the campaign, did not hesitate to give the company a reality check on it’s ‘not-so-fair’ history. “Good initiative. However, admitting your mistakes is the first step towards correcting them,” he wrote, recalling the tag lines/ narratives propagated by the conglomerate. "These aren't exact, but the gist is similar: 'Fairer skin got me a job/ romantic date/groom', 'Gora nikhaar laye jeevan mein bahaar', 'Get 2 shades lighter skin in 4 weeks'. All of these, perpetuated for decades, by the brand's parent company (and specifically some of its products) in India,” he stated.

“All of these, perpetuated for decades, by the brand's parent company (and specifically some of its products) in India,” he stated.

Responding to the campaign’s exhortation of ‘Dove kehta hain #StopTheBeautyTest‘, another user wrote, “Sirf Dove kehta hai... But what about Fair & Lovely and all the other brands that have told every little girl to constantly worry about glowing skin/ shining hair / makeup that hides them.”

“There is demand and there is supply.. I propose you cut the supply of useless confidence shattering products and demand shall wade off. Be the first movers if you really care!! N not just for the Daughters Day campaign,” she emphasised.

Yet another netizen minced no words while replying to Mehta’s post. After seeing this short film, the first thing that crossed my mind is a popular saying in Hindi language, he wrote. “It goes like this... Sau chuhe kha kar, billi chali Haj ko.”

He continued,” I'm sorry, no amount of campaign like this can undo the damage that  Unilever  India has done to the psyche and self-confidence of millions of young girls in India in the last several decades, milking their emotions and preying on their low self-esteem with campaigns for brands like Fair & Lovely, Pond's, Lakme, etc. to make millions of dollars in profit.”

“And what's worst is that I have personally contributed to this by selling F&L for over 2.5 years while working for HUL in rural India,” he added.

LinkedIn user Gautam Pradhan was also scathing of the post even as he lauded the initiative. “Good initiative Sanjiv, But Unilever has actively contributed to believing that fair skin colour is beautiful with massive advertisement campaigns from 1975 to 2020,” he wrote. “The height was when Hindustan Unilever started giving seven shades scale in the pack. I have seen my sisters growing up with the Fair and Lovely brand. And they are comparing skin tone on the scale,” he further shared. 

“Keep running this campaign on TV until you change the belief system of an Indian household that skin colour doesn't matter,” he emphasised.

Dove's latest campaign claims to bring to fore beauty-based judgements that young girls are subjected to by the society in the guise of advice. 

Last year, the soap brand launched the #StopTheBeautyTest campaign throwing a spotlight on how beauty biases are amplified during the process of finding a life partner. The campaign showcased how the remarks deeply impacted the self-esteem of prospective brides.

The second and latest leg of the campaign has shifted its focus on ‘the root of the problem’ - from prospective brides to teenage girls. The film features girls who narrate their stories of how they have been subjected to varied beauty tests based on their appearances and thereby rated by society on their looks instead of their intellect / aptitude. 

Watch the Dove film here:

Mehta’s post also faced backlash from a section of users who pointed out how the campaign seemed removed from the reality of today’s times, even as some LinkedIn users responded by complimenting Dove for bringing social issues to light with their ‘wonderful purpose driven campaign’.

“Something is not right with these ads. Indian mother daughter relationship has changed at least aspirationally. In the households depicted in the ads pressure from mother is for studies and ambitions mothers have for their daughters. The middle class India has changed. The ads looked unreal to me for a  hashtag#realbeauty  brand,” wrote a user in response to Mehta’s post.

“Our girls have crossed this barrier long back. Ask your team to work on some other strategy to connect with girls,” trolled another, even as another section of users commended the ad for being relatable and true. This prevails in many families, even ‘educated and cultured families’, they noted.

Some users called the brand’s latest campaign another ‘marketing gimmick’. 

“Good to see a change, but large questions remain on the way most of Unilever's products are marketed and pushed into the minds of the vulnerable. Till the bigger change happens, these ads will be viewed by most as a mere gimmick,” wrote a user.

“It IS a gimmick. An expensive , slick gimmick. What is the locus standi of a company that makes Fair & Lovely , Lakme to preach  #StopTheBeautyTest  to consumers,” insisted another user. 

Are they asking Dove consumers to not buy Fair & Lovely, Lakme products, a user demanded to know.

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