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Unilever Redefining ‘Normal’ with New ‘Positive Beauty’ Strategy

Unilever is eliminating the word “normal” from all of its beauty and personal care brands’ packaging and advertising, championing a new era of beauty that is equitable and inclusive, as well as sustainable.

Positive Beauty sets out several progressive commitments and actions for the consumer goods giant’s beauty and personal care brands (its largest division) — including Dove, Lifebuoy, Axe and Sunsilk — and aims to foster a new era of beauty that is equitable and inclusive, as well as environmentally sustainable.

“With one billion people using our beauty and personal care products every day, and even more seeing our advertising, our brands have the power to make a real difference to people’s lives,” said Sunny Jain, President of Beauty & Personal Care at Unilever. “As part of this, we are committed to tackling harmful norms and stereotypes and shaping a broader, far more inclusive definition of beauty.

“With more consumers than ever rewarding brands which take action on the social and environmental issues they care about, we believe that Positive Beauty will make us a stronger and more successful business.”

The role of business in the racial justice and equity movement

Hear more from some of the organizations, large and small, that are taking authentic action and making long-term, systemic commitments to creating diverse, equitable workforces at Just Brands '21 — May 11-12.

The Dove brand has been celebrating ‘real beauty’ for years; but overall, the beauty industry has been slow to broaden its definition and depictions of what is considered “beautiful.” In 2018, CVS made good on its promise to stop altering imagery for beauty products with its “Beauty in Real Life” campaign, which featured diverse women in unaltered images and video depicting “real-life” beauty moments. And bright spots such as Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty and smaller brands such as Cheekbone Beauty were built around inclusivity; but the cosmetics and personal care industry at large remains sadly devoid of color and broader representations of beauty.

The decision to remove the word “normal” was born out of a global, 10,000-person study, conducted in January and February 2021, which revealed that more than half of people worldwide think the beauty and personal care industry can make people feel excluded. The study also showed that: 

  • Seven-in-ten people agreed that using the word ‘normal’ on product packaging and advertising has a negative impact. For those aged 18-35, this increased to eight in ten.

  • 74 percent of respondents stated that the industry must advocate for a broader definition of beauty. 

  • More specifically, six in ten people agreed that the beauty industry creates a singular notion of who or what is “normal”; and two-thirds (63 percent) agreed that removing the word “normal” would inspire them to feel more positive about the way they look.

  • 74 percent also want to see the beauty and personal care industry focusing more on making people feel better, rather than just looking better.

Unilever says that Positive Beauty will aim to go beyond harm reduction and challenging narrow beauty ideals — and also help to drive a transformation in how its products are designed and formulated so that they do more good for both people and planet, deliver a superior product experience, and tap into consumer trends.

In addition to removing the word “normal,” Unilever says it will no longer digitally alter a person’s body shape, size, proportion or skin color in its brand advertising; and will increase the number of advertisements portraying people from diverse, underrepresented groups.

“Every day, we see and hear messages about how to ‘fit in’, how to be included in very narrow definitions of what is ‘normal,’” says Sarah Degnan Kambou, President of the International Center for Research on Women. “In order to champion equity, we need to challenge these restrictive ‘norms’ and create societies and communities that celebrate diversity — and the unique qualities and ideas that each person brings. Beauty is no exception. We look forward to seeing Unilever advance these commitments and hold themselves to the high standards they have set out before them.”

Positive Beauty follows the launch of Clean Future, the sustainable business strategy of Unilever’s Home Care Division in September 2020; and Future Foods, the sustainable business strategy of Unilever’s Foods & Refreshment Division in November 2020; and the company’s work with the longstanding Unstereotype Alliance, which seeks to eradicate stereotypes from the advertising industry.

Learn more about Positive Beauty

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