Meglow's 'Fair' Play: Progressive Or Regressive?

By Aakriti Shrivastava , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | August 06, 2015
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In its latest communication, the fairness cream for men tries to break stereotypes. But, does it?

The debate around fairness creams advertising has been reignited with Meglow Fairness Cream's commercial featuring actor Emran Hashmi. The ad is being critiqued for trying to break stereotypes, albeit unsuccessfully. The category is notorious for producing racist ads and portraying dark skin as inferior.

Meglow Premium Fairness Cream for men, which was launched in 2006, is a brand from the house of Leeford Healthcare. Although the product has been in the market for several years, and also claims to be well-established, this is its first campaign on electronic media. While the ad is already up on online platforms, it will be released on TV by mid-August. The communication uses the tagline 'Fair Hai' and is conceptualised and executed by Razorblade Films.

Meglow's latest ad featuring Emran Hashmi

The protagonist of the ad is seen dissappointed from being continuously rejected on the professional front, when Hashmi comes around and suggests using 'Meglow Premium Fairness Cream for Men'. With his newfound 'nikhaar' (a term consciously used instead of fairness), the protagonist confidently goes for an interview, and to the surprise of the viewer, is rejected again. Brand ambassador Hashmi reappears, reasoning that not fairness, but qualification is what gets you a job.

The narrative takes a turn, as he points out to a girl nearby, hinting that while professional success may be out of bounds, personal life can be renewed none-the-less.

Critics have booed the ad, stating that it promises to be progressive and ends up as stereotypically regressive. Vivek Sharma, vice president, strategy, Leeford Healthcare, justifies, "In the fairness segment, most brands try to project themselves as more than just creams, giving users things that are 'out of the world'. However, the core idea of our communication is honesty. We are painting a realistic picture, where the rewards are reasonable."

On being asked if the idea of 'getting the girl' makes the ad regressive, he comments, "A person who is more presentable is more likely to attract people, and that is a logical deduction. We observe it in our society on a regular basis."

The brand's broad TG is males between 15-44 years, not only in the urban market, but also in semi-urban and rural areas. It hopes that the brand ambassador will build the required connect with the audience, across segments.

Fair skin has always been a crucial attribute in the mindset of an average Indian. The fairness category, including creams, face-washes and lotions have exploited the same need in their communication for decades, since the category leader Unilever's Fair & Lovely was introduced in the market in 1975.

The category also penetrated deeper, with the launch of Emami's Fair & Handsome in 2005, creating a new segment - fairness for men - of which Meglow is a part. However, as the communication remained backward, catering to coventional stereotypes, where personal success was linked to skin colour, academia and NGOs started voicing their dissent on the issue.

Silmultaneously, ASCI also released guidelines for 'fairness products' advertising and has been strictly adhering to it. The guideline states that the advertising should not communicate any discrimination as a result of skin colour and should not reinforce negative social stereotyping on the basis of skin colour.

Fair or Unfair?

Saurabh Uboweja

Aditya Jaishankar

According to Saurabh Uboweja, CEO and chief brand strategist, Brands of Desire, the ad pretends to be progressive and unconventional, but is utterly regressive. "The ad is, in fact, worse than those for other fairness creams which atleast try to impress through humour like the Shah Rukh ad," he says.

"I don't think the advertiser didn't know what they were getting into. It may be a case of any publicity is good publicity. They have a convoluted logic that you need to be fair to impress women, even though you flunk in interviews. I think that's a cause for criticism around the ad," he states.

Uboweja, however, points out that such ads are only a reflection of the society we belong to. "If our society gives more value to fair-looking folks, how do you keep the brands away from exploiting this? A change is definitely needed and a check is also required on the content, so that such ads don't become racial or insensitive to a particular gender or region," he opines.

He thinks the idea of being 'fair and honest' could have had a better script and execution. "An actor like Emran Hashmi is wasted in the current format," he says.

Aditya Jaishankar, planning head, South, McCann India, thinks the ad is clutter-breaking. "To some extent, by opposing that fairness can get you ahead in life, this ad takes on a stereotype . However, while the communication talks about the fact that getting fairer does not enable you to get a job, it reinforces stereotypes by once again showing that fairer men are more attractive to the opposite sex. Its is a very strange situation where you break a stereotype on the one hand and reinforce a stereotype on the other hand," he opines.

He concurs with Uboweja that a drastic change is needed in the way fairness creams are advertised. "Fairness can be portrayed more as a personal choice. It's almost like the protagonist is saying that he or she feels nice looking fairer, but that does not mean it is true for society at large," he says.

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