Unilever says it will strike the word “normal” from all its beauty and personal care products and advertising as a step toward being more inclusive.
Packaging will change on more than 200 hair and skin care products from such household names as Dove, Vaseline, Suave and Axe, said spokesperson Jessie Kramer. Revisions also are in store for brand messaging. Unilever also pledged to increase advertisements featuring underrepresented models and said it would not digitally alter a person’s body shape or skin color in its advertising, according to a Tuesday news release.
“Normal” could typically be found on products like shampoo, such as “for normal to oily hair,” or lotion “for normal skin.” The shift comes after several of the company’s advertising campaigns sparked a backlash. In 2017, an ad for Dove body wash showed a Black woman removing her shirt to reveal a White woman in the next frame — which seemed to emanate a racist trope from historical soap ads. The ad was pulled and Dove issued an apology.
“We know that removing ‘normal’ from our products and packaging will not fix the problem alone, but it is an important step forward,” said Sunny Jain, Unilever’s president of beauty and personal care. “We are committed to tackling harmful norms and stereotypes and shaping a broader, far more inclusive definition of beauty.”
The global cosmetics market is projected to reach nearly $430 billion by 2022, according to Allied Market Research, and as it grows, its consumer base is shifting. The beauty industry has taken steps to reflect those changes, expanding its product lines and marketing for a more diverse audience. It’s no longer unusual, for example, for large cosmetics brands to offer dozens of shades of foundation or feature models of different ages and body types in their advertisements. Skin care companies have launched lines that market toward men or remove gender from their marketing altogether.
Unilever recently commissioned a study of 10,000 people in the United States, United Kingdom, South Africa, Brazil, China, Indian, Indonesia, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia that found that 56% said that the beauty and personal care industry can make consumers feel excluded. Seven in 10 believe “normal” on product packaging and advertising has a negative connotation, while 69% said they would recommend a beauty brand to others if it offered a wide range of products for different hair and skin types.
“Unilever has made the most progress with hair products, where ‘normal’ was removed or repositioned and replaced it with descriptions that highlight the benefit of the product,” Kramer said in an email. “We want to communicate what a product does — not who it is for — without the manufactured description of ‘normal.’ For example, we’ll explain that a product will replenish moisture or help to meet specific needs.”
D’Artagnan Young of Illinois said he stopped buying Unilever products a while ago because of the “normal” messaging and dismissed Tuesday’s announcement as too late.
“When I was growing up it felt like there was no real beauty products and skin care products for Black people,” he said in an email. “I always felt like the whole ‘normal’ thing was geared for white people, and having darker skin was at one point in time seen as abnormal in my mind because of commercials I was seeing that only promoted the products like they were for white use only.”
But Tamira King, who teaches international marketing communications and strategic marketing to postgraduate students at Cranfield University in England, was overjoyed to see Unilever’s change.
“I strongly believe that we don’t have to conform to what is normal and what advertising wants us to see as normal,” she said. “What Unilever has done is position themselves with that brand value of inclusivity and body positivity … I hope many brands will follow. I think it will have a real impact.”
She says she’s hopeful her students will see it as an example of brands taking responsibility for inclusion in their campaigns and advertising.