Abid Hussain Barlaskar
Points of View

What does Unilever’s push for ‘cruelty-free’ products mean for the beauty and personal care industry?

Industry experts weigh in on the various ways a brand take the 'cruelty-free' brand positioning forward.

Global FMCG major Unilever has been pretty loud about its position on testing its products on animals. As a part of its ‘cruelty-free’ stand, the company has even called for a global ban on animal testing for cosmetics and personal care products by 2023.

The company has also been working alongside agencies like Humane Society International (HSI) and People fo­r the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) for various initiatives.

Unilever recently announced that 23 of its beauty and personal care brands are now ‘PETA-approved’. The company is working towards adding more to the list.

While there are many brands that have built their ‘cruelty-free’ positioning, a company with a scale of Unilever could have a significant impact on all brands in the space.

Unilever has also just partnered with HSI for its ‘Save Ralph’ initiative, a stop-motion animation short film launched as a part of a global campaign to ban animal testing for cosmetics.

We wondered what could be done to take the positioning a notch higher – like say, brand messaging or celeb partnerships. And, if it would make a difference to the consumers. Over that, how could it affect other brands, essentially Unilever’s rivals in the space?

PETA, for example, maintains an extensive list of brands that still carry out testing on animals. The list includes Unilever’s rivals like Reckitt, Revlon, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, among others. It mentions popular brands like Tide, Band-Aid, Venus, Veet, etc.

However, while the list gives Unilever brands a complete miss, it has been pointed out by various entities that Unilever sells its products in markets like China that mandate animal testing.

Here is what three industry experts have to say on the issue.

Edited excerpts:

Shyamashree D’Mello, executive creative director and head of creative services – Publicis Beehive

If a brand and a company as big as Unilever really believes that its products are cruelty-free, then it should start by writing it on the product packaging, and by being very loud and clear about it. The consumers can know and challenge the claim if they feel like it. Just saying it and creating positive PR is not enough.

Shyamashree D’Mello
Shyamashree D’Mello

An involved and evolved consumer will see through it and may want to learn more about how the company executes its claims. Brands like Biotique, Mamaearth and WOW Shampoos actively say it and put it out there for the consumers to challenge.

There are consumers, who are really price-conscious and ‘animal testing’ does not feature at the top of the list of their priorities when it comes to purchasing stuff. The product safety and price is essentially driving the purchase here.

For the products that cater to a slightly more evolved and exposed audience, it definitely becomes something of greater value. The consumers may also want to pay a minor premium for it. The product has to be great too.

Debarpita Banerjee, president – FCB Ulka, North and East, and head - FuelContent India

From any standpoint, not just Indian, this would show the brand and the company in a more ‘humane’ light. This is the right thing to do.

Debarpita Banerjee
Debarpita Banerjee

The consumers are evolving, and ethical production, mindful consumption and inclusive existence are already major triggers to decision-making. And the tribe is only growing.

It is more about practice than preach. Leveraging such subjects and using it for advertising robs it of its sheen and purpose.

However, while the tribe is growing, in a populous country such as India, this kind of evangelism is still far and few. Hence, the brands can champion this cause, and help spread awareness for more mindful choice and consumption.

Nisha Singhania, director and co-founder, Infectious Advertising

If any brand today takes a stand against animal testing, it is sure to win hearts. People today, especially the millennials, are really ‘woke’ and care a lot about social issues. By emphatically stating this, Unilever will not only connect with them, but also end up winning newer audiences.

Nisha Singhania
Nisha Singhania

People don’t just buy brands, they buy into them and, hence, it is not only important for brands to take a stand, but also be vocal about it. They need to make people aware about their values and beliefs. They can even get ambassadors, who believe in the same cause, to support their stand.