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Calling some types of hair or skin ‘normal’ ends now, Unilever pledges

The new normal is not saying normal. Unilever has announced that it will no longer use that word to describe hair and skin types on its products.

Calling some types of hair or skin ‘normal’ ends now, Unilever pledges
[Photo: Robin Utrecht/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images]
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The new normal is not saying normal.

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Unilever has announced that it will no longer use that word to describe hair and skin types on its products.

Driving the global personal-care giant’s decision is a desire to be more inclusive and to broaden what society thinks of as the epitome of beauty.

A Unilever-commissioned study of 10,000 people in nine countries around the world, including 2,000 in the United States, found that 70% said the word “normal” on product packaging and advertising has a negative impact. Among people ages 18-35, that jumps to 80%.

Among the Unilever brands that will adapt the new anti-discriminatory approach are Dove, Lifebuoy, Axe, and Sunsilk.

“[W]e are committed to tackling harmful norms and stereotypes and shaping a broader, far more inclusive definition of beauty,”Sunny Jain, president of Beauty & Personal Care, said in a written statement. “We know that removing ‘normal’ from our products and packaging will not fix the problem alone, but it is an important step forward.”

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The London-headquartered company also has promised to refrain from digitally altering a person’s “body shape, size, proportion or skin colour in its brand advertising” and to up the number of ads with diverse and underrepresented people.

Laura Ries, a marketing strategist at Ries & Ries in Atlanta, says the global world we live in today means there is no way to define “normal.”

“When you say something is normal, that always implies the opposite—that everything else is not normal,” she explains. “It’s bit of a housekeeping thing, in terms of looking at your brand and how they’re presented and some of the terminology you’re using and cleaning it up a bit. Does ‘normal’ make sense in how people are thinking about things today?”

Unilever’s Dove brand was at the forefront of this change with its Real Beauty campaign, launched in 2004 to highlight women of all races, heights, weights, etc. Last year, Hindustan Unilever renamed its Fair & Lovely products Glow & Lovely.

Not everyone is impressed with today’s pledge.

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“It doesn’t accomplish anything meaningful at all. From a branding standpoint, it accomplishes nothing,” says Rob Frankel, a Los Angeles-based branding strategy expert. “They got a media mention out of it and that’s really it. When you look at this stuff, there’s no substance to the announcement.”

Unilever products are sold in more 190 countries worldwide, generating $60-plus billion in sales last year, according to the company website.