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HUL's fair trade: Dove kills stereotypes, Fair & Lovely fuels it?

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HUL's fair trade: Dove kills stereotypes, Fair & Lovely fuels it?


Marketers have long moved away from elucidating the functional benefits of the product and are tapping the emotional quotient. It was time that they moved to 'empowerment', said Nitin Paranjpe, CEO and Managing Director, HUL. The “cause” not necessarily has to be “environment”. It can be anything and even “fair trade”, he said, at the session titled, “How to get the elephant to perform miracles”.

He gave examples of brands that had taken up the cause to impress consumers. Body Shop highlights that its products are not tested on animals. UCB has taken up the 'Race against Racism'.

For HUL, Paranjpe said, Dove's campaign, “Why can't more women feel glad to be grey?”, launched a few years back reminded the audience of the success of the campaign in breaking some stereotypes. “Silicon, botox, tuck-ins - these are unreal and unattainable. The Dove campaign redefined the beauty stereotype. When the campaign was unveiled, the consumers were waiting for this to feel and say, 'Hey I'm OK. I don't have to be size-zero',” he said.

However, while Dove stands for a worthy cause, how does one justify the long standing stance – somewhat derogatory to women – taken by HUL for its brand Fair & Lovely, that – fairness is important for social acceptance.

However, Paranjpe was in for some shocks, and gave some shockers, when he found himself in the line of fire during the question and answer session. When asked by a member of the audience to defend the communication of HUL's fairness creams, Fair & Lovely and Fair & Handsome, Paranjpe, it seems, was at loss of words or logic. He shifted the blame entirely on to the Indian society. “There are a set of people who feel that fair is beautiful. It is a belief in India, so be it,” Paranjpe stressed. “These stereotypes do undergo a change,” he added.

The question seems to have played on the HUL CEO's mind for long, as while answering another question, which had no connection to the last, Paranjpe said, “There would be a large set of people who would be depressed if Fair & Lovely didn't exist.”

To a question, where he was asked to comment on the HUL's “tactics” employed, lately, to “hijack” P&G Pantene's “Mystery Shampoo” campaign by posing it as a Dove campaign, Paranjpe brushed it aside saying, “I don't know what you mean by 'hijacking'. Tactics are OK, if you don't move away from your long-term strategy.”

Earlier, during his presentation, he talked about the plethora of choices the consumers have today and the challenges marketers faced. “The central principle of marketing is to differentiate. With advent of technology and easy access to capital, and abundance of choice, the challenge is the paradox of choice and differentiate,” the HUL CEO said, stating that the race was leading to “meaningless differences”.

He gave an example of a two-spouted kettle, which he said was “an irrelevant benefit or differentiator; and therefore, it was not surprising that the world of marketing had come for criticism”.

But differentiation can create a lasting value if it has a consumer relevant purpose at its core. Paranjpe urged the marketers to play a larger “role in her life” and there were enough opportunities for them, “provided you come close enough and understand them (the consumers).”

He went on to say that “being the first mover” as a differentiator was a big myth. “Google wasn't the first search engine. It was just more user friendly,” he said.

He also gave examples of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and Facebook, which weren't the first in their space. Yet, it was the understanding of the consumer that differentiated them. For IPL, “it was the mix of Bollywood that made it a success..., and Facebook understood the 'miracle' of having you to invite a friend.”

Nitin Paranjpe was speaking at the World Marketing Congress, organised by AIMA, on February 4, 2011.

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