HUL, Emami and the aggressive play in Rs 5,000-cr fairness creams category

Fair & Lovely ads, even before the renaming, pitched the brand as a confidence-building product rather than a fairness cream as did Emami for its product in the category
The fight over the newly renamed Glow & Handsome may have boiled down to the use of an ampersand (Hindustan Unilever uses the symbol while Emami expands it); and hit a temporary pause, as the Bombay High Court granted interim relief to HUL, stating that there must at least a week’s notice before any legal action is initiated against the use of the trademark, but the battle say experts, has just begun. The clash is not just over the use of a name, but one for loyalty and affinity in a category that is controversial, cluttered with promises and full of look-alikes.

Emami has challenged HUL’s move to rename Fair & Lovely’s variant for men as Glow & Handsome, saying that this is name it had registered earlier. HUL has claimed otherwise, laying out the chronology of the trademark for the courts. “This is going to be a tight battle with a close finish. Unfortunately, this (fight over a name) comes down to ‘and’ and ‘ampersand’,” says independent communications consultant Karthik Srinivasan.

While the dust and indignation over a name will likely settle down with a court injunction, the fight between the two will get uglier say experts. This is because the fairness creams category has expanded beyond the cities into small towns and semi urban centres, where brand loyalties are still being firmed up. Here the product is sought by a generic name, rather than by its brand and imitators pose a big challenge to the branded players in the segment. Cheap imitations, a close look-alike or name clone, cut deep into the market shares of the big brands. With similar colour, packaging and products, lesser known or unknown brands employ the practiced art of subterfuge to gain customers at the expense of the market leaders. 


The battle will get even more brutal if the big brands play the imitation game, hence the aggression demonstrated by HUL and Emami is unlikely to ebb even after the courts rule, said experts. “Imitation tends to be a challenge. The intention is to use similarity in consumers’ minds who think they are buying the original,” says Srinivasan. 

Names and looks matter, but so does pugnacious tenacity and alacrity, as Harish Bijoor, CEO of Harish Bijoor Consults, points out. “Marketing is meant to be nifty, energetic and active and this episode has provided a lesson. For instance, one has to try and register everything around your brand. Emami could have registered Fair & Handsome and other names around it including Glow & Handsome to pre-empt any legal claims by its competitors,” he says.

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