‘Fair’y Tale – A Petite Flashback
The multinational brands exploited the occasion better than anyone else in this business. These winners of Miss World pageants from India were roped in as the brand ambassadors of the company’s line up.
These beauty queens subscribe Indian Women with those creams and lotions offer enough and more void promises. They promote that these creams would bring out the hiding fair skin (!) behind the sun burnt dark skin. In the commercials they appear, they proclaim that regular usage of the products they promote would make the consumers to become as beautiful as them. This kind of promotion had a huge psychological impact on the Indian women, and it has obviously helped the cosmetics MNCs to build their empire in the Indian soil.
To trace the rough history of fairness creams in India we might start with the most popular brand in India ‘Fair&Lovely’. This was the first fairness cream to hit the Indian market back in 1978. Hindustan Unilever Limited, a consumer goods manufacturing company owned by the Anglo-Dutch company Unilever. Unilever is the third largest consumer goods manufacturer in the world.
The advertisement campaign carried by the company to promote the cream portrayed dark skinned or chocolate-skinned girls worrying about their complexion. They were depicted in the commercials as unattractive to men and were shown to be incapable of winning jobs. Post usage of the cream, they were shown with glowing white skin and were now capacious of winning boyfriends and grabbing glamorous jobs. These kind of plot remains the same in almost all commercials that we come across any brand’s skin lightening creams commercials. Only the screenplay is altered slightly from one to the other.
Back in 2007, the company had to cease the television commercials after heavy protest and criticism from public and media critics. The company’s ad at that time campaigns blatantly publicized that light skinned women are beautiful and others are ugly. The models with different skin tones were compared and the fairer ones were hailed as beautiful. This attracted the condemnation from all corners for perpetuating racism. Besides this the confidence of millions of dark and medium complexioned Indian women was challenged by the downgrading portrayal of dark skinned women in their commercials. The opposition was so intense that the Information and Broadcasting ministry had to intervene and ban the commercial for its content was in contravention of the Indecent Representation of Women Act.
Later cosmetic companies switched to the safe mode that avoided direct on screen comparisons of skin tones. However they keep luring the women by reiterating, ‘Beauty means fair skin’. Only the advertising mode has taken a different form, where the idea sticks on. In spite of the tough competition in the market Fair and Lovely is the Queen of the market, with an estimated market share of 72%. This is possible because of the competitive low price tag accompanies it. This has enabled it to penetrate deeply into the middle class and lower middle class customer market.