Emami, HUL locked in 'handsome' fight

As Emami threatens legal action against HUL over the use of the name 'Glow & Handsome' in its men's range of fairness cream, Forbes India digs into the history of the fairness war between the two FMCG giants

Published: Jul 3, 2020 10:56:07 AM IST
Updated: Jul 3, 2020 11:41:45 AM IST

fair and glowImage: Shutterstock

Back in 1941, Tall, Dark and Handsome, an American comedy-drama movie, bagged the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Cut to 2020. An Indian remake of Tall, Dark and Handsome is in the works, and the genre remains the same: Comedy, and drama. 

On Thursday morning, FMCG major HUL rebranded its flagship women’s fairness cream brand to ‘Glow & Lovely’. It also changed the name of the men’s range—which was earlier also called Fair & Lovely—to ‘Glow & Handsome’. The move, the company said in a terse press release, was a step towards a ‘more inclusive vision of positive beauty.’

The drama began to unfold in the evening. Rival Emami, which dominates the men’s fairness market with its ‘Fair and Handsome’ brand, claims that it had already renamed its fairness brand and rolled out Emami ‘Glow and Handsome’ a week ago. “We are shocked to learn of HUL’s decision to rename its men’s range of ‘Fair & Lovely’ to ‘Glow & Handsome,” Emami’s spokesperson said in a press release.

What follows next is a teaser of the impending corporate war. Emami accuses HUL of ‘unfair business practice’ and ‘trying to damage brand image.’ “It goes to prove Fair And Handsome’s strong brand equity in the market that the competition is wary of,” the spokesperson added.

As Forbes India digs deeper into the fairness fight, the latest battle appears to be an extension of a war tracing back to the year Emami rolled out its men’s fairness brand: 2005.

“Emami stumped HUL, which had rolled out Fair & Lovely for women in 1975,” says a retail analyst, requesting anonymity. HUL, he adds, knew that over 30 percent of its users were men, and was planning to roll out a men’s variant of the cream. “Emami, though, made the first move, and also used the word ‘fair’ in its brand Fair And Handsome,” he adds.

A year later, HUL entered the fairness market for men with its variant of Fair & Lovely. Emami, meanwhile, had made handsome gains, as its brand clocked Rs 50 crore in the first year. “Emami clearly had an edge over HUL as the word ‘handsome’ made it click with men,” says the analyst quoted above. HUL, over the next few years, struggled with the perception of being a women’s fairness cream. Having the same name for the men’s variant added to its blues. The wounds simmered for over a decade.

Cut to 2017. The gloves came off.

HUL reportedly contested against the claims of Fair And Handsome’s instant fairness face wash and 100% oil clear face wash. The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), however, dismissed the complaints. A year later, in July 2018, HUL reportedly made a similar appeal in the Calcutta High Court. The result was the same. The action next shifted to Delhi High Court. HUL contended that Fair And Handsome’s TV commercial (TVC)—which claimed that women’s fairness creams are not designed for men’s skin—was disparaging to its own brand. The court, in its judgement last March, upheld the right of Fair And Handsome to run its TVC.

June 2020. HUL rebrands its men’s fairness variant of Fair & Lovely to ‘Glow & Handsome’. “Now, they have paid back in kind by adding ‘handsome’ to the brand,” says the analyst. The fight, he reckons, is set to get bitter.

Branding experts reckon that whenever companies fight in a category, the category grows. “The fairness market, tangible and intangible, is set to grow more despite ‘name changing’,” says Jagdeep Kapoor, managing director at Samsika Marketing Consultants. As more and more companies drop the ‘word’, they will pick up sales as the deep need still exists, rationally and emotionally. “After all, handsome is what handsome does,” he says.

Agrees KV Sridhar, founder and chief creative officer of Hyper Collective. “It’s a question of demand and supply,” he says. “The moral issue of selling a fairness cream is the same as selling liquor or tobacco. If the government allows companies to manufacture, market and sell, then it should also allow them to advertise.”

Activists, though, say that by merely dropping a name, and not the product itself, exposes the hypocrisy of the companies. “It’s a not a fight over the ‘fair’ or ‘handsome’ words. It’s a fight to end discrimination based on colour,” says Sunieta Ojha, women’s right activist and lawyer at the Supreme Court. “Why ‘glow’? Why not ‘Dark & Lovely’ or ‘Dark and Handsome’?” she asks. “The attributes of the brands don’t change with the name. Whitewashing the entire nation only perpetuates our deep obsession with white skin.”

Meanwhile, the Indian remake of Tall, Dark and Handsome also stands a good chance of winning the best screenplay award. The fairness claims, in whatever avatar, made by companies are tall; the idea is to remove dark-ness by spreading white light; and in all fairness, it does seem to be a handsome fight.​

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