The company behind brands including Dove soap and Sure deodorant will ban excessive Photoshopping of models and remove the word “normal” from beauty product advertising, in its latest response to social and environmental concerns.
Unilever said it would eliminate “all digital alterations to body shape, size, proportion and skin colour” from its advertising. The Photoshop ban will cover Unilever adverts as well as influencers paid by the company to promote products.
The removal of the word “normal” from packaging will affect at least 200 products and will be completed within a year, addressing criticism that corporate conceptions of norms could be exclusive, particularly if conceived in the terms of a single racial or demographic group.
The FTSE 100 consumer products company said it would also aim to use “more natural, biodegradable and regenerative ingredients across our product portfolio”.
The moves come as Unilever tries to position itself as an ethical brand across its vast product portfolio, which ranges from Sunsilk shampoo to Domestos bleach and Marmite spread. It has set a science-based target of producing net zero carbon emissions by 2039, and has outlined ambitions to reduce the amount of plastic used in its packaging.
Sunny Jain, Unilever’s president for beauty and personal care products, said consumers were increasingly rewarding brands that took action on environmental and social issues. He said the personal beauty campaign would make the company more successful.
The company also vowed to increase its activist marketing, “taking a stand on the issues we know consumers care about and communicating that to consumers”.
Unilever’s Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream brand has embraced social issues as part of its marketing. Last summer Ben & Jerry’s criticised the UK government’s policies on refugees crossing the Channel, drawing the ire of senior Conservative party politicians, and it has expressed support for Black Lives Matter protests. In January the company said it would launch the Crown Fund UK, an initiative aimed at stopping discrimination around black hairstyles.
Unilever’s beauty and care division is one of the world’s largest advertisers, spending between $4bn and $5bn annually. In January it pledged to tackle advertising stereotypes and to increase spending on companies run by women or under-represented groups from €300m to €2bn per year.
However, it has faced criticism for its role in perpetuating harmful conceptions of beauty. Last year it rebranded a skin-lightening cream sold in India from “Fair and Lovely” to “Glow and Lovely”, but it continues to sell it in spite of claims that its existence propagates discriminatory attitudes. “The product has never been and is not a skin bleaching cream,” Unilever claims on its website.
The move to outlaw unrealistic photo editing comes eight years after some of Unilever’s brands highlighted the issue. In 2013 Dove soap ran an advertising campaign that urged designers not to “manipulate our perceptions of real beauty”. It also created a spoof photo-editing tool that promised to “beautify” images but in fact reverted images to their unedited state.
In 2016 Unilever announced a shift in brands such as Lynx, a deodorant brand known as Axe in most markets outside the UK, away from adverts that relied on laddish stereotypes that were regularly criticised as misogynistic.
Jain said the company was “committed to tackling harmful norms and stereotypes and shaping a broader, far more inclusive definition of beauty”.
“We know that removing ‘normal’ from our products and packaging will not fix the problem alone, but it is an important step forward,” he said.