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Unilever Erases the Word ‘Normal’ From Packaging to Promote Inclusion

Going forward, Unilever will not digitally alter body shape, size, proportion or skin color in its advertising, and plans to increase the number of advertisements portraying people from diverse groups as part of its Positive Beauty drive.

LONDON — For consumer giant Unilever, the new normal is no normal.

The parent of brands including Dove, Ponds, Vaseline and Kate Somerville will say on Tuesday that it plans to eliminate the word “normal” from all of its beauty and personal care brands’ packaging and advertising as part of its new Positive Beauty vision and strategy.

The company said its decision to remove “normal” is one of many steps Unilever is taking to challenge “narrow beauty ideals” as it works toward helping to end discrimination, and advocates for a more inclusive vision of beauty.

The decision was based partly on the results of a global survey commissioned by Unilever of people’s experiences of the beauty industry. The survey, conducted earlier this year, revealed that using “normal” to describe hair or skin makes most people feel excluded.

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The 10,000-person study focused on nine countries: Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, U.K. and the U.S.

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It found that 56 percent of people think the beauty and personal care industry can make people feel excluded.

Seven in 10 people said the word “normal” on product packaging and advertising had a negative impact, and for those aged 18 to 35, that figure rose to eight in 10.

The research also showed that 69 percent of people said they would recommend a beauty brand to their friends and family if it catered to a wide range of skin and hair types. Half of respondents said they would pay more for such products.

The survey shed light on other themes, too: Some 74 percent of respondents said they want to see the beauty and personal care industry focus more on making people feel better, than just look better.

More than half of those surveyed said they now pay more attention to a company’s stance on societal issues before buying products.

The latter finding dovetails with one of Unilever’s overarching strategies. The company’s chief executive officer Alan Jope has repeatedly said that a “purpose-led, future-fit business model drives superior performance, consistently delivering financial results in the top third of our industry.”

He said during an analyst call last month that businesses with environmental, corporate and social governance at their heart are more profitable, and can attract better talent.

Unilever is removing the word "normal" from its beauty and personal care packaging and advertising.
Unilever is removing the word “normal” from its beauty and personal care packaging and advertising. Courtesy of Unilever

“It is unequivocally clear that purposeful brands are growing faster” than those without specific ESG-related targets, and that “sustainable businesses drive growth,” the CEO said.

Jope said Millennials and Gen Z are the ones demanding that businesses take a stand and deliver on green goals in particular.

Unilever has pointed out that the brands perceived as “more purposeful” grew more than twice as fast as the rest of the portfolio in 2020.

In addition to removing “normal” from its packaging, Unilever said it will not digitally alter a person’s body shape, size, proportion or skin color in its brand advertising, and will increase the number of advertisements showing people from diverse groups who are underrepresented.

“It’s clear that people are increasingly aware that harmful norms can shape the way we think and feel, and that they are demanding a broader definition of beauty,” said Sunny Jain, Unilever’s president of beauty and personal care.

“With one billion people using our beauty and personal care products every day, and even more seeing our advertising, we know we have the power to make a real difference, and that by doing so, we will become a stronger, more successful business,” Jain said.

He acknowledged that removing the word “normal” is not a panacea, “but we believe it is an important step toward a more inclusive definition of beauty.”

Jain said the removal of the word is “one of a number of actions we are taking as part of our Positive Beauty vision, which aims not only to do less harm, but to do more good for both people and the planet.”

As reported in June, amid the antiracism protests worldwide, Unilever said it was removing references to “white” and “whitening” in its skin care products. It changed the name of its Fair & Lovely brand to Glow & Lovely.

At the time, the consumer giant said it wanted to promote a “more inclusive vision of beauty,” and said it planned to remove the words fair/fairness and light/lightening from all Unilever products.

The company has already changed the advertising, communication and — more recently — the packaging in South Asia, and in 2019 removed the before-and-after impressions and “shade guides.”

Unilever said it has progressively tried to put the focus on women’s empowerment, emphasizing that “no association should be made between skin tone and a person’s achievement, potential or worth.”

Jain has also been working on Unilever’s advocacy programs with initiatives such as the Dove Crown Act in the U.S., which has been instrumental in enacting statewide legislation that ends discrimination based on hair type.

Unilever has a raft of commitments and actions linked to Positive Beauty and said it looks forward to a new era of beauty “which is equitable, inclusive and sustainable.”

The company said it would continue “helping to end discrimination in beauty, championing inclusion by challenging narrow beauty ideals and building a more inclusive portfolio of products.”

Unilever has promised to challenge the status quo and stereotyping in advertising, and to improve health and well-being through existing educational initiatives in handwashing and oral hygiene.

The company said it will also expand its focus into new areas, including physical health and mental well-being.