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All is fair in business and war: HUL versus Emami — who will dominate men’s fairness cream space?

Emami is evaluating legal action against HUL for renaming its men’s range of Fair & Lovely products as 'Glow & Handsome'.

July 06, 2020 / 06:51 PM IST

Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) and Emami Ltd have locked horns again, this time over the brand name of a men’s fairness cream.

Kolkata-based Emami already dominates the men’s fairness cream segment with a market share of 65 percent, while HUL’s Fair & Lovely (for women) is the market leader with as much as 80 percent share.

Men’s grooming market has grown from a mere Rs 3,200 crore in 2016 to a whopping Rs 10,000 crore today, according to analysts.

Shah Rukh Khan has been the face of Emami’s Fair and Handsome (Glow & Handsome) for close to a decade now.

Almost 15 years back, in June 2005, Emami made a bold move to venture into an almost non-existent segment—men’s fairness cream, calling it 'Fair & Handsome'.

Sensing the robust demand, its competitor HUL in 2006 launched a similar product naming it 'Fair & Lovely For Men'.

Now, HUL and Emami are at loggerheads again. On July 2, 2020, HUL announced that its iconic skincare brand ‘Fair and Lovely’  will be rebranded as ‘Glow and Lovely’, while the men’s range of the product will be called ‘Glow & Handsome’.

Emami Ltd, which owns the ‘Fair and Handsome’ men’s grooming brand, on July 2 said that it is evaluating legal action against HUL for renaming its men’s range of Fair & Lovely products as 'Glow & Handsome'.

“We are shocked to learn of HUL’s decision to rename its men’s range of Fair & Lovely as Glow & Handsome. Emami, the maker of Fair and Handsome brand of men’s grooming products, is the market leader in the men’s fairness cream with legal ownership of the trademarks. We will now be consulting legal experts,” Emami said in a statement immediately after HUL announced the name change.

Emami cited trademark infringement on the part of HUL, since it had changed the name of its men’s fairness cream to ‘Emami Glow & Handsome’ and launched the brand digitally a week earlier than HUL.

Emami has threatened legal action against HUL in an exchange filing on July 2. The company added that HUL’s move was an “unfair business practice”.

As of 2012, Unilever’s Fair & Lovely occupied 80 percent of the fairness cream market in India, and is one of Hindustan Unilever’s most successful cosmetics lines.

But Fair & Lovely faced criticisms for many years and recently an online petition was circulated to stop its sales.

Indian celebrities have been called out several times in recent years for endorsing skin-lightening or whitening products.

Why the name change?

In June, Johnson & Johnson decided to stop selling skin-whitening creams popular in Asia and the Middle East, after such products came under social pressure in recent weeks amid a global debate about racial inequality.

The company will stop selling its Clean & Clear Fairness line of products, sold in India.

While experts called it a ‘bold and ethical move’, other brands did not curb production and instead opted for a name change.

A slew of cosmetic brands came under the scanner for promoting skin fairness for stereotyping racial types, that intensified further in the wake of 'Black Lives Matter' movement in the West.

Men’s grooming

For long, fairness products and anti-aging products were marketed primarily to women by some of the biggest personal care brands such as HUL, Emami, and L’Oréal.

However, over the past decade, men too have become their target group, with many introducing separate fairness products. Bollywood stars such as Shah Rukh Khan and John Abraham have endorsed many of them.

In 2017, Emami acquired  30 percent stake in Helios Lifestyle Pvt Ltd which owns ‘The Man Company’ that sells premium products through its website that offers products for bath and body, beard management, shaving and perfume.

“Its a vanity game as ever! And vanity represents big money, not only in today's terms but well into the future,” said Harish Bijoor, brand guru and founder, Harish Bijoor Consultants.

Other players have also joined the race. Looking at the potential in the male grooming segment, Marico has acquired men’s grooming brand Beardo.

Expert take

Brand experts pointed out that HUL had introduced Fair & Lovely to the market in the 70s, and it was Emami that had launched a men’s variant of fairness cream —Fair and Handsome— in 2005.

“HUL was there first in the space of fairness creams in 1975. Emami came in much later and took a swipe at the men's grooming category with its own 'Fair&Handsome'.  Emami did a twist on the name and tried to occupy the high ground,” said Bijoor.

In fact, Emami was also only one of the few FMCG companies to realise the potential of celebrity brand ambassadors, especially in a price-sensitive market with a large rural base.

“Name is everything, the product and brand are built through its name. Particularly in rural areas, the product is asked by its generic name such as ‘woh handsome wala cream dena’. So Emami is right in this case for going against HUL,” said N. Chandramouli, CEO of TRA Research, a consumer analytics and brand insights company.

He further explained it with an example that in Tamil Nadu, people call soft drink 'colour'. “A soft drink is launched with the name of Kalimark, one of the very few indigenous soft-drink manufacturers in India that survived the onslaught of takeovers by multinational giants Pepsi and Coca-Cola, during the mid-1990s. Coco-Cola had launched a drink called Colour, but it failed.”

Himadri Buch
first published: Jul 6, 2020 06:44 pm

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