[Assam] Advertising in India - From the NYT

Ram Sarangapani assamrs at gmail.com
Wed May 30 06:01:46 PDT 2007


May 30, 2007
Advertising
Telling India's Modern Women They Have Power, Even Over Their Skin
Tone By HEATHER
TIMMONS <http://query.nytimes.com/search/query?ppds=bylL&v1=HEATHER
TIMMONS&fdq=19960101&td=sysdate&sort=newest&ac=HEATHER
TIMMONS&inline=nyt-per>

NEW DELHI, May 29 — The modern Indian woman is independent, in charge — and
does not have to live with her dark skin.

That is the message from a growing number of global cosmetics and skin care
companies, which are expanding their product lines and advertising budgets
in India<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/international/countriesandterritories/india/index.html?inline=nyt-geo>to
capitalize on growth in women's disposable income. A common thread
involves creams and soaps that are said to lighten skin tone. Often they are
peddled with a "power" message about taking charge or getting ahead.

Avon<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/business/companies/avon_products_inc/index.html?inline=nyt-org>,
L'Oréal, Ponds, Garnier, the Body Shop and Jolen are selling lightening
products and all of them face stiff competition from a local giant, Fair and
Lovely, a Unilever<http://www.nytimes.com/mem/MWredirect.html?MW=http://custom.marketwatch.com/custom/nyt-com/html-companyprofile.asp&symb=NYSE>product
that has dominated the market for decades.

Fair and Lovely, with packaging that shows a dark-skinned unhappy woman
morphing into a light-skinned smiling one, once focused its advertising on
the problems a dark-skinned woman might face finding romance. In a sign of
the times, the company's ads now show lighter skin conferring a different
advantage: helping a woman land a job normally held by men, like announcer
at cricket matches. "Fair and Lovely: The Power of Beauty," is the tagline
on the company's newest ad.

Not surprisingly, the rush to sell skin-lightening products has drawn some
criticism, with people saying that the products are at best unsavory and
that they reinforce dangerous prejudices.

When Unilever markets Fair and Lovely, it "doesn't cause bias," but it does
make use of it, said Aneel G. Karnani, a professor with the Stephen M. Ross
School of Business at the University of
Michigan<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/u/university_of_michigan/index.html?inline=nyt-org>who
earned a business degree in India.

Global cosmetics companies — which also sell skin-lightening products
throughout Asia and in the United States, where they are marketed as spot or
blemish removers — argue that they are just giving Indian women what they
want.

Taking offense at the products is "a very Western way of looking at the
world," said Ashok Venkatramani, who is in charge of the skin care category
at Unilever's Indian unit, Hindustan Lever. "The definition of beauty in the
Western world is linked to anti-aging," he said. "In Asia, it's all about
being two shades lighter."

Sales of Fair and Lovely have been growing 15 to 20 percent year over year,
Mr. Venkatramani said.

Skin-lightening products are by far the most popular product in India's
fast-growing skin care market, so manufacturers say they ignore them at
their peril. The $318 million market for skin care has grown by 42.7 percent
since 2001, says Euromonitor International, a research firm.

"Half of the skin care market in India is fairness creams," said Didier
Villanueva, country manager for L'Oréal India, and 60 to 65 percent of
Indian women use these products daily. L'Oréal entered this specific market
four years ago with Garnier and L'Oréal products, but so far has a small
market share, he said.

The idea of "glowing fairness" has nothing to do with colonialism, or
idealization of European looks, Mr. Villanueva said. "It's as old as India,"
he said, and "deeply rooted in the culture."

There's no denying that the notion of "fairness," as light skin is known in
India, is heavily ingrained in the culture. Nearly all of Bollywood's top
actresses have quite pale skin, despite the range of skin tones in India's
population of more than a billion people.

Lightening products can damage the skin if they are overused, dermatologists
say, particularly if they contain hydroquinone. The compound reduces melanin
but can leave permanent dark spots in high doses.

Deeply rooted ideas about women's roles are slowly shifting in India. The
percentage of women married before the age of 19, for example, has dropped
sharply. Advertising and marketing gurus are aiming at young, urban Indian
women, who are earning their own money and are potential customers for a
host of products including name-brand clothes, cosmetics and new cars.

India is hardly alone in its pursuit of "fairness." Korea, Japan and China
are big markets for skin-whitening products. And the United States is not
exempt. Ebony magazine ran similar ads relating to full-face "skin
brightening" or "skin whitening" creams aiming at African-American consumers
through the 1950s and 1960s, said Jeanine Collins, communications director
for Ebony. Those ads changed their message during the 1970s and 1980s to
talk about removing spots or blemishes, she said.

In India, advertisements for L'Oréal-branded products and the company's
Garnier line generally feature a pale model, and focus on the ingredients in
the product, using take-action language like "YES to fairer and younger
looking skin" or "Against inside cell damages."

L'Oréal's super-high-end Vichy line is more direct: the main advertising
image in Asia shows a woman unzipping her blemished, darker face to reveal a
light, even-toned one within.

"We have never had any complaints about the ad's social implications," said
Nitin Mehta, India general manager of the active cosmetics division of
L'Oréal, which makes Vichy products.

Unilever's Fair and Lovely brand has drawn particular scrutiny because of
its market dominance, its ads and the parent company's image. Unilever also
makes Dove products, whose "Real Beauty" campaign encourages women in the
United States and Europe to embrace the way they look. This month, Unilever
said it would ban super-skinny models from ads.

The All India Democratic Women's Association has been monitoring
advertisements since the 1990s and gets particularly angry with ads that
convey the message "if she is not fair in color, she won't get married or
won't get promoted," said Manjeet Rathee, a spokeswoman for the
association's media group. The current crop of television ads for fairness
creams are "not as demeaning" as ones in the past, she said.

In a twist that makes it difficult for critics to accuse Unilever of stoking
just women's insecurities, the company has begun to advertise a Fair and
Lovely product for men.
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