Unilever will drop the word “normal” from its beauty products and ban excessive editing of models’ photos in a push for inclusivity.
Dove’s owner said the editing ban would apply to “body shape, size, proportion and skin colour” and “normal” would be removed from 200 products.
Its boss said it wanted to create a “more inclusive definition of beauty”.
The firm has previously faced allegations that it promoted stereotypes around dark skin tones.
The London-based firm, which also owns the Simple and Sure beauty brands, is set to make the changes over the next year. The ban on editing will include photos taken of models as well as social media influencers.
On the change to its marketing strategy, the firm’s president of beauty and personal care products, Sunny Jain, said: “We know that removing ‘normal’ from our products and packaging will not fix the problem alone, but it is an important step forward.”
The word “normal” is typically used on shampoos, conditioners and face products, such as for “normal or oily skin”.
But Roshida Khanom of market research firm Mintel said: “‘Normal’ is such a loaded term because it indicates that there is an ‘abnormal’ and it doesn’t actually describe anything, so it’s about time that the term is dropped.”
“Young people in particular are shifting the conversation – the traditional notions of beauty no longer hold up for Generation Z, who see beauty as accepting and owning your imperfections,” she said.
Instead of the word “normal”, Unilever will use different descriptors for customers looking for particular qualities in their beauty products. Shampoo for “normal to dry” hair, for example, will soon be labelled for “dry and damaged” hair.
Unilever said on Tuesday it would also take a number of other steps in an attempt to promote “a new era of beauty that’s inclusive, equitable and sustainable”.
It committed to increase the number of adverts portraying people from under-represented groups and use more natural and biodegradable ingredients across its range of products.
Capitalising on consumer awareness?
Mr Jain added that consumers were increasingly “rewarding brands” that take action on environmental and social issues. He said the personal beauty campaign would make Unilever a “more successful business”.
The FTSE 100 firm has, however, faced criticism in the past over its advertisements and allegations that some products promote negative stereotypes around dark skin tones.
Last year, it rebranded a skin-lightening cream sold across Asia from “Fair and Lovely” to “Glow and Lovely”, but it still continues to be sold despite petitions calling on the firm to halt production.
“The product has never been and is not a skin bleaching cream,” Unilever says on its website.
The firm also apologised after it ran a Facebook advertising campaign in 2017 for Dove body lotion, which showed a series of three images, showing a black woman peeling off her T-shirt to reveal a white woman underneath her skin. The third image shows the white woman undressing to reveal an Asian woman.
Sophie Lund-Yates, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “The world’s consumer base is becoming increasingly aware of social issues, and the threat of boycotts and backlashes means giants like Unilever are right to try and avoid PR headaches.”
Such fallouts can have negative consequences such as hitting sales or damaging the brand, she said.
But she pointed out that given Unilever’s enormous scale, with some 400 brands, “a tweak like this is unlikely to move the dial at the operating level”.
“What it does show, is a heightened awareness of the issues that matter to consumers, and a proactive approach suggests management has its eye on the ball,” she added.
The firm has since taken a number of other measures to address social issues. In January, Unilever said it would launch the Crown Fund UK, an initiative aimed at stopping discrimination around black hairstyles, while ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s has voiced support for the Black Lives Matter protests.