The video (above) does a great job showing how youngsters are told what they should look like, but when you consider what other brands are owned by the consumer goods firm, things start to seem a bit hypocritical.

Unilever’s subsidiary in India, Hindustan Lever Limited (HLL), markets Fair & Lovely Skin Cream and Lotion, the largest selling skin care product in India. Fair & Lovely is being promoted as a “fairness face cream” to lighten dark skin. Through their advertisements, Hindustan Lever spreads the message that a light skin is better than dark. Here’s a short ad, translated into English.

And equally interesting, is this ad for Fair & Lovely, targetted at men.

It’s as obvious as it comes to promote the idea that white is better, although on the slight flip-side, there are a huge amount tanning products here in the UK.

I think a lot of it comes down to people wanting what they don’t have. If you want to be thin, “drink Slim Fast” (also Unilever-owned) if you want to be white, “use Fair & Lovely,” if you want to stand up against the darker side of the fashion industry while maintaining your beautiful skin, “use Dove.”

Hypocrisy, or catering to the consumer? On a deeper level, would the consumer even have these supposed needs if it wasn’t for the advertiser?

# # # #

October 10, 2007


I’m new to your site, and a little embarrassed to leave my website address…I’m new to blogging too, but loving it. When the DOVE campaign launched it’s “pro” aging line of products in the US, I was at first, very interested. But after visiting the site, and researching a bit farther, I realized it is just another spin on the age old “anti” aging slogan. Thanks for doing the research about the company. The line of products in India is news to me.

Hi David,

While I indeed understand the smell of hypocrisy here, I am prepared to accept the video for what it shows and throw out the politics and corporate baggage that goes with it. It does a great job sending the right message. Perhaps I’m oversimplifying or being lazy here, but to me the message is good; the politics of who is behind it runs a distant second in my mind – even if it ends up indirectly funding people who sell products counter to it’s message. If it even wakes up only a few parents then it’s worth it.

Hey DA,

You could look at the advertisements both ways for sure, but I for one don’t think there was that much thought involved. I think the complexity only runs so deep:

Problem: I want to sell Product X and make fat cash.

Solution: Sell it to people who want the qualities Product X will give them, regardless of color, nationality, sexual preference and whether or not they drive stick or auto.

It’s marketing. Good or bad, it’s what companies do.

Good post! Thanks for making me think past my bedtime,


Business to my mind always has shades of hypocrisy, it is bad only if it blatant and bordering on lines of what can be termed unethical.

Each business has to expand, that is their purpose, and inthis expansion they have to cater tot he specific needs of various different markets… Dove when it was launched in India over a decade or maybe two back, was a premium product for a largely middle class nation, and maybe because of a collective lack of self esteem in the country, unilever(HLL) and a few other skin care firms recognised the thin line of demand for fairness in a predominantly dark country.. In their defence, they were only catering to the want of people and not creating a need per se… and the need is coming down these days.. thats one of the reasons they launched a male variant.. I guess it is one of those colonial fixations that India has..pretty much like its love for English more than its own national language..

And on a larger scale, you are looking at brands.. a company is just an investor looking for profits ..purely business.. in my opinion it would have been unethical or hypocritical if they were promising something more than what they actually deliver… which is not the case, they are just segregating different products based on the inherent demands of different markets.. it is in a way similar to you wanting have a different brand for your logo design works.. just separating a niche.. though of course in your case there is no trace of any hypocrisy..

I reckon Dove has noticed the recent pressure being put on ‘image’, and the voices that are now crying out against skinny catwalk models being made out to be the ‘norm’. I mean, just recently, Prada had a catwalk model with a figure!! Others will now follow suit, and the likes of Dove are going to reap credit for being one of the first to initiate this move – but it’s all money. There are shareholders to keep happy, and if there wasn’t money to be made, they wouldn’t be interested.

Hi Jess, don’t be embarrassed. I like your theme choice. I’ve seen so much worse from those who are new to blogging.

Richard, I can accept it for what it is too. There’s always an ulterior motive with multi-nationals, but it’s good to see a positive spin on the message.

Armen, a Prada model with a figure? That is good news! I don’t see the appeal for waif-like models. I like a little something to hold on to.

I think the message is an important one. People (and especially women) need to hear it. I have never had a guy suggest I need a makeover. However…

Women are a different story. I could fill notebooks with “flaws” my female friends have pointed out could be fixed by makeup or cosmetic surgery. It is hard to be confident about your body in a group of girls. If you don’t join in with the “I hate my (insert imagined figure flaw here)”, they pick one for you.

My nose really bothered me in my teens. It reached its adult size about 10 years before the rest of my face did. My friends couldn’t understand why I didn’t go “Barbie”fy my nose into submission with a visit to a plastic surgeon. There were many years where it was really hard to see that the girl in the mirror wasn’t hideous, because I literally couldn’t see past my nose. The girl in the mirror may not be a supermodel, but you know, she’s kind of pretty when she feels like smiling.

Nothing like a little cross-cultural info to get perspective… I first saw a Chinese ad a few years ago for lightening cream, and was really surprised. I’m Eastern European, I live in the US with very fair skin, and am frequently told to go to the tanning salon — meanwhile, in other countries, that’s a more desirable trait… And we can find the same for weight – recent NYTimes article discussed the problem of obesity in Mauritania, where a woman isn’t beautiful if she doesn’t weigh at least 200 lbs.

So one word of advice a friend of mine once received from a retired Parisian prostitute: “If you tell them you’re pretty, they’ll believe you.”

Hi! David.. Its a long time I left a comment.. I was too busy to life my life you know.. HAHA!!

Anyways I am from the country where those Fair & Lovely Ads been broadcasted..

1. The Guy says work in the sun, not sitting in the A/C, though it was about having a good looking skin but they product itself sells for Fair and Lovely..

2. Yes! This country do demand a fairer complexion guys and girls one point of time.. But times have changed where people really look for success and smartness…BUT AGAIN Exceptions do exists.. and afraid to tell that exceptions may be of majority..

3. Racism still exists.. C’on..I have lived in Dubai-UAE where almost people of all nations exists in near to equal amounts.. based on Skin color I have never seen a Female Beauty saloon with a Dark Skinned Barber, Oh yeh! Dark skinned male barbers do exist in Male Saloon.

Never I have seen a dark skinned waiters or waiteress in a Good restaurent, thought their chefs and kitchen are filled with Dark people (Good thing cooks get paid more than waiters)

As people discriminate based on language, same may apply to skin colour.. which really hurts people.. Why so much.. Phillipinies origin people are in great demand in Gulf countries for their colour.. WHY?? All know it why..

Even though people give stats that Greatest talent pool is from Asia… Me being from India I have been matrimonial ads Demanding a FAIR GREEN CARD HOLDER LOOKING FOR AN INDIAN BRIDE?? WTF..

Accept it or not.. Things go as they are in demand.. but.. I am very sure things are almost getting to an end.. :D ..

Okay I enjoy my skin colour.. any girls out here :p

This is an interesing post. You certainly cover a wide spectrum of topics on your blog.

I know someone who used to work in advertising and they said that their job was just grab hold of people from and get them to buy. This is just a PR campaign to make people think Dove care about them. Most people sitting in fornt of the TV in zombie mode would not be conscious enough to realise what was going on. There is a good video by Bill Hicks that deals with these kind of issues.

It is interesting you bring up the racial issue here. In West Africa during the 1970’s and it is coming back again in the modern age, there was a lot of Africans who felt in neccesary to use products to bleach their skin to make them look more like white people. This practice was attacked by the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti in his mockingly titled song ‘Yellow Fever’.

Wow. I can’t believe I’m surprised. I tell you it really sucks to a black man. I appreciate you post this information. But I don’t appreciate you comparing it to tanning. Personally as an African American, I don’t understand why white people get tan. Because they never look brown and they look orange like carrots and look like jackasses. No offense.

But Thanks David. I will be sure to discuss this at my Barbershop, which is the place we black folks have intelligent talks at, lol. For some reason. That is some evil stuff.

And please post more stuff like this. As artist we have to think about the things we advertise.

A very interesting post, David. I often ponder the relationship between advertising and social responsibility.

Most of the time, alas, there isn’t much of a relationship at all.

Hadn’t seen the Fair and Lovely ads; they are fascinating. Reflect a social pressure similar to the one that encourages women in Asian countries to have eyelid surgery to achieve the “more desirable” appearance of the Western eye.

If you’re interested, here’s a link to a few of my posts dealing with the topic of advertising:

Its totally fake but Unilever does this a lot. There’s an ad doing the rounds in cinemas at the moment for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream which does a brief history of the company and how they are just a couple of idealistic hippies making great ice cream” – seems to miss out the point where they sell out to Unilever for $326million though…

Caitlin, I agree that this is targetted particularly at women, and also that it’s a message that should be spread far and wide. I was watching a documentary last night that mentioned how 2/3s of women aren’t happy with some aspect of their bodies. Quite a scary statistic, even if 95% of statistics are unreliable.

Keep smiling, and I’m sure you’re very pretty with a smile on your face.

Renata, “If you tell them you’re pretty, they’ll believe you.” Very apt.

Santosh, great that you’re keeping busy, although sorry I can’t provide a dating service via my blog. ;) The ads you’ve seen, looking for Indian brides, are crazy, though not very surprising in todays age. I hope all’s well with you.

David, some might say I cover too many topics on my blog, but I post about what interests me, and advertising plays quite a big part of my site. Bill Hicks was amazing. I’ve enjoyed watching almost all his live performances.

Kenn, this topic is bound to hold comparisons to tanning, because it’s all about changing what you have, when you’re not happy with it. I don’t sit in the sun with the hope of getting a tan, nor do I advocate the use of any tanning products. Personally I’d prefer to protect myself from skin cancer by keeping in the shade. Besides, my celtic skin just turns pink anyway.

I’m glad I’ve published something to get you talking, and appreciate you dropping in to comment.

Jermayn, sorry the videos haven’t shown. I must remember to post direct links to YouTube.

Cynthia, I hadn’t heard ot the eyelid surgery before! Sad. Very sad.

Stuart, so that’s how much Ben and Jerry made from the sale. More and more, it’s all about the money.

Great post David. I wrote an article just last week about the advertising industry and overweight children and thought you might find it interesting:

Overweight Kids and TV: An Advertising Epidemic

Several recent studies have found significant associations between television advertising exposure and food consumption patterns. These studies suggest that the childhood obesity “epidemic” may not be caused by children watching too much TV, but rather the advertising they’re watching on it.

One of my readers pointed out the Dove Onslaught video campaign. I think that TV advertising influences our cognition and behavior much more that we realize. It’s my opinion that many of the “needs” expressed by advertising wouldn’t exist (or at least wouldn’t be as important) if it wasn’t for the advertiser.

This is a great discussion topic. People at my ad agency have been debating the bigger issue here, of how an umbrella brand like Unilever with multiple brands targeting different groups tries to keep a consistent message. The owner of my company just posted an article asking these questions on our blog – check it out for another view on this great topic… i wonder how Unilever will respond to that LA times article!

I have a simpler approach. Turn off, tune out, avoid. I feel a lot calmer. _Everything_ in modern media is trying to sell you something, and a lot of it is designed to upset you.

1.) Corporations want to make money.
2.) Corporations want to please their target audience.
3.) Corporations want to be well liked.

4.) They’ll do anything to obtain the above 3 whether being hypocritical or not. I guess for them they just have to find a balance between it all and hope for the best.

That was a very interesting post, thank you for sharing.

I know a girl who’s body is half Asian and half European. Her white relatives always tell her how gorgeous she is because her skin is dark (darker than theirs anyway), and her dark relatives tell her how gorgeous she is because her skin is light.

It’s unfortunate that people identify themselves with their bodies, and thus if their body is beautiful they get their feeling of self worth from that. And if their bodies are ugly, they feel they are worthless.

I guess I have more than a few feelings about this, so I hope I can order them simply enough to be readable.

1. No one makes anyone buy into anything. I think that Fair and Lovely junk is stupid. Likewise, I think spray on tans are stupid. Unilever does not make me buy anything. I choose to buy it, and Unilever will continue to create it if the demand is great enough to warrant supply. This, then, returns to consumer and personal education. To demand that Unilever change would be to miss the real problem: that there are people who actually want to buy the product they’re pushing.

2. One message is better than no message at all.

3. Oversight is not uncommon in international business. I don’t mean to play Devil’s advocate here, but it is not out of the realm of reasonable possibility that Dove here and elsewhere does not feel too kindly toward “Fair and Lovely.” Different people exist in different companies in different places, even if they’re all somewhat connected under a parent company. This can be easily simplified by giving an example of a country: not all people in a country act or believe the same things, even though they are all citizens of the one place. Different things, different people, different markets.

4. Unilever is a big brand that owns or partly owns many little brands. No offense, but I personally believe it is absurd to expect a parent company to take full responsibility for the advertising campaigns of all its partner/owned brands, which range from completely different product lines and markets, to completely different nations, large and small. (Hell, Unilever even has pasta and rice packets in Australia–Continental.)

Yes, legally, Unilever would be held accountable for various issues, or the main Unilever in a particular country (more likely), but we aren’t talking legal matters here. We’re talking moral ones, in which case so many other things come into play that I think one misses a lot by only seeing the big picture, minus the details.

5. Food for thought. Dove may be hypocritical for being under a parent company that owns it and Slim Fast, but how hypocritical are we, as people, if we watch the Dove commercials and agree with them, while drinking a Slim Fast? Should we really hold companies to greater responsibility than we hold ourselves?

Walter, I agree that ads can produce supposed need. Interesting piece you wrote there too.

Ken, good post, and I picked up on the comment from Angela about the Axe (Lynx) deodorant and Dove campaigns:

Sometimes I wonder if it would help any to interpret this whole thing differently. What if a woman could…

1) Watch a Dove ad and walk away with a sense of self-empowerment, then
2) Watch an Axe ad and walk away with the sense that she’s an insanely sexy, cardinal and coveted creature?

T, that’s the easy thing to do, and although I believe I can do the same, I wonder if when walking through a supermarket those ads might prompt a subliminal mind-change.

PG, there’s a fine balance, and it’d be incredibly complex to get everything right. Corporate conglomerates? Not my thing.

Chris, on the quote that Renata mentioned, “If you tell them you’re pretty, they’ll believe you.” If only more people thought like that. We’re all beauts.

Lelia, food for thought indeed. I realise that people want to buy the product that Unilever are selling, but I question how much influence the advertiser has on the actual need. I’m not saying they’re fully responsible, but I think people would be less inclined to purchase if they didn’t see so much advertising.

Good point about people not getting on together under one umbrella. And you’re spot on that ultimately we need to take responsibility for our own actions.

Unilever’s hypocrisy is consistent. Juxtapose the Dove Campaign for real beauty against the Axe ads.. Compare/contrast Slimfast ads with Onslaught. It goes on and on…

Becauses they consistently deliver messages that contradict each other, Unilever stands for nothing but greed.

And it all stinks.

Dear David,

I’m nutritionist and I teach nutrition and communication in Porto University – Portugal. I’m using your excelent post about Unilever to introduce my students to the world of design and advertising. Congratulations for all the site and contents !

Pedro Graça


As an assignment for University I’m part of a group analysing Unilever’s financial, social and environmental reporting. These contradictory adverts support the theory that corporate social responsibility is nothing more than ‘hard practise masquerading behind soft rhetoric;’ a wolf dressed in lamb’s clothing.
This is also reflected in Unilever’s role in creating the ‘Marine Stewardship Council’ despite the fact that they have been cited for polluting a Scottish river (1991) and were fined this year for polluting a river in China.

Also, if the customer is soveriegn, why do companies spend hundreds of millions on advertising?

Fascinating and helpful piece of work!!

it’s not hypocrisy to sell chemicals however you can make them, which is what Unilever do.
the hypocrisy is saying that they are “just kidding” about the way they market Axe body spray.

I actually don’t find this racist…let me explain. I am Chinese, and In East Asia, the same desire for fair skin exists as it does in India. This is because if you are darkened by the sun, it means that you work outdoors and are “lower class.” The middle/upperclass are white collar, and women walk around carrying umbrellas to keep their fair skin. Those that must toil in the sun are usually of a lower class. The culture views fair skin as pure, delicate, beautiful. It is common to use whitening lotions. Lighter skin also signifies healthier skin which has not be sun damaged.

In America, being tan means you are of the middle/upper class. You have the luxury of time and money to travel, go to the beach, lay out in the sun, while the lower class has to stay in doors in McDonalds and flip burgers. Not only are products like Jergens sunless everyday lotion popular, but also instant bronze lotions by Neutrogena and bronze powders. People in America want to be darker.

Interestingly enough, when in America I use bronzer every day. When in China, I don’t. It’s all about the culture you’re in and what definition of beauty you are surrounded with.

Yes – I realize that my explanation only applies to those people that are able to darken/lighten their skin to some degree (this doesn’t apply to Africans). But the products Unilever is selling isn’t designed to change someone’s race.. just their “tan.” And tan is a fashion and a fad. In America, tons of beauty aisles are lined with tanning lotions, sprays, bronzers, etc. In Asia, they are lined with whitening and skin lightening products. Who is to say one aisle is racist versus the other? You can only claim that the Asian products are racist if you claim the American brands and American drug store are racist and want everyone to look darker than they naturally are.

“In America, tons of beauty aisles are lined with tanning lotions, sprays, bronzers, etc. In Asia, they are lined with whitening and skin lightening products. Who is to say one aisle is racist versus the other?”


Did you even watch the ad? The girl starts off darker, doesn’t get the gig, then uses the product, becomes lighter, gets the gig! What this teaches is self-loathing if you have darker skin, plus it teaches the rest of us that people in general who have darker skin are not as good at their jobs as people with lighter skin. It teaches us all that the white masters are watching, and to succeed, you need to look and act just like them.

>Who is to say one aisle is racist versus the other?

Keep telling yourself that and you’ll keep rationalizing the profits of companies, and more importantly, rationalzing the attitudes of [somewhat cleverly masked] racism that damage the fabric of entire cultures worldwide. All this would be fine if there was no racism, if having dark skin in India (or the US) was looked upon as no big deal. And it would be fine if being white here (or anywhere) — or should I say “not being beautifully bronzed” actually *IMPEDED* you from making a better life for yourself and your family. But we all know that is nowhere near reality.

The fact of the matter is that “being lighter” in India IS a big deal and clearly plays a part on societal values. And it does so thanks to Western colonization and the monocultural attitudes that came with it and that have remained. Everywhere we go (including here in the good ol’ USA), we try to force our race and culture on others instead of respecting theirs, especially when theirs has dark skin, curly, kinky hair and a host of other unique traits. I have Indian friends who tell me that being light-skinned there is an ideal thanks to marketing campaigns like this over successive generations. And that dark-skinned people there are looked down upon as “lower.” You can even see this racism skewered in a few Indian movies that have been very successful here in the US.

So yeah, keep justifying the polarization of our world, of the haves and have-nots, by saying “it’s their choice to buy” instead of realizing that TV ads and other marketing are insidious ways of “educating” a culture 24/7/365 to hate itself for what it’s not…instead of celebrating itself for what it is.

How about we as consumers look at Unilever and say to them, “That’s wrong, find something non-harmful to make a profit on or we’ll quit buying Dove, etc.” This kind of marketing isn’t “just business.” It’s just plain bad business.

BTW, I work as an advertising copywriter with nearly 20 years in the business. And no, I don’t work on racist campaigns like that.

Hello Steve,

Yes, I watched the skin cream ad, and don’t agree with it. I have a similar standpoint as you when it comes to choosing clients. Ethics are important to me, but of course these vary considerably depending on the person.

The fact is if you read books on racism, specifically how African/Negro/Dark Skin people, you will find the constant disrespect of African/ other dark skinned people. I believe in God(Christian) and I believe in “Evil”. There is evil in the world. The only word that best describes certain people is “Fools”. Everybody on this planet knows that lighter skin is preferred atleast, “ATLEAST”… in what we call the so called “Civilized World”. I’m in the US, its just a fact that light or white skin is considered better. Thats just a fact. I’m not from Europe nor ever been but I’m sure its the same. I don’t have to shot myself to know if it hurts or not.

You can’t compare a person that is lightening their skin to a person darkening. Its not the same thing. Your thinking of it as just coloring. Thats not whats going on, well it is but their is also something else going on. One side is doing it because self hate and the other side is doing it with the mind set of cosmetics. Its hard having dark skin in this culture but the amazing thing is… Well in exchange for all the pain/hate you receive to see what millions of people don’t see. Its amazing. Its a blessing in disguise of pain.

Lol, you guys seriously don’t know how evil this cream is, lol. Seriously, thats some evil stuff and I’m sure people are reading saying its just cream. Amazing to see this in other brown skin ethnic groups. They had that white cream in American in the early 1900s.

I seriously hope 100 years from now human beings destroy this racism. I’m sure their are millions of inventions that haven’t been invited yet because certain people in society never get a chance. Personally, lol, I doubt it. I hate to say it but experiencing what I have, I doubt we have a chance. But I could be wrong, I hope to God I am. lol.

Like Nestle’s and its unethical means of palm oil procurement for Kit-Kat, other Giants too have been responsible for a lot of collateral damage. This damage is never factored into the price of the product that you buy off the supermarket shelves..There are some anecdotes, maybe apocryphal,of a MNC team chopping down acres of Reetha (Natural soap nut) trees in order to boost soap sales in India, in deep rural areas. This led to a slew of skin rashes and ailments (much like the Spanish conquistadors decimating entire south american tribes with the common cold virus!) which of course gave the said MNC the opportunity to issue a public service advt with their germicidal soap as the essential germ fighter!!! So, when yo buy any product marketed by this company in India, please know that you have not paid for all the collateral damage…You did pay for the soap sales commissions and reward junkets to the employees though!!!! I probably cannot escape the MNC net – and my life is no spartan, righteous testimony; I am as much a sucker for convenience as anyone else…Having said that, be aware, I say – thats a start…

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