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The Razor’s Edge

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Ad campaign relies on racist standard

Though you may not know the ad agency Ogilvy and Mather, Toronto, you may have seen the results of their creative output, the excellent Dove Evolution campaign. Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch multinational corporation which owns Dove, created a revolution in the skin-care industry with that campaign, boldly exposing the standard industry practice of using professional make-over followed by sophisticated image-retouching in Photoshop, transforming a normal girl into one fit to be on their billboards!

Strangely enough, this feel-good campaign directed at girls in North America, is conspicuous by its absence in South Asia and other melanin-rich media markets. Instead, what Hindustan Unilever (the Indian avatar of Unilever) offers is Fair & Lovely, a skin-whitening cream! The “World’s No 1 Total Fairness Cream”. Gestated in India in 1978, the cream has spread its marketing tentacles to 40 countries (and counting).

If the existence of the product is itself a travesty and a sad reflection of the inherent racism in society (the brown-on-brown variety!), the campaigns, developed by the multinational ad agency Lowe at their Mumbai office in India, is nothing short of appalling and degrading to all women, especially to those endowed with extra melanin and exposed to harsh tropical sun.

he ads (which can be viewed by searching for “Fair & Lovely” on YouTube.com) feature an easy-to-understand, unambigously racist and sexist message: a girl is rejected in a job interview, uses Fair & Lovely Total Whiteness cream (that even has a Fairness Meter to boot!) and Cut. Voila, she gets the same job as her skin has become “three shades lighter in four weeks”. In all fairness, the product does come with a money-back guarnatee!

Obviously, Unilever, the manufacturer of Fair & Lovely is not the only guilty party in exploiting the insecurities of young women. As any Creative Director in an agency will tell you, a product is doomed to fail without a successful ad campaign that generates millions for the agency. Don’t the creative folks (art directors, writers, designers, photographers, et al) at Lowe share at least part of the responsibility?

It is no longer sufficient to just talk about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) when highly paid, extremely talented “creatives” hide behind corporate coattails and inundate us with exploitative, stereotypical messages. It is high time we become Socially Responsible in our Creative output (SRC).

There is a thin, but distinct line: the razor’s edge that separates advertising from propaganda; a creative professional from a Goebbels.

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