Mumbai Capital

All is Fair & Lovely in Parliament

Yeh Fevicol se bhi zyada mazboot jod hai (this bond is stronger than that of Fevicol),” Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said at a press conference in Tokyo in September 2014 to describe the relationship between India and Japan. Those were the heady days when every word uttered by Mr Modi was broadcast live, with endless replays, tweeted and retweeted by thousands, and made the front pages of all newspapers.

While the instant response of all those involved with Fevicol would be one of delight, if the substance of Mr Modi’s comparison sinks in, Fevicol has been reduced to a number two bond-maker.

But who cares? The earned media was worth many crores. No one objected to Mr Modi’s usage of a brand name in a public and official speech. Last week, Rahul Gandhi used a Hindustan Unilever (HUL) brand name to illustrate his criticism of the BJP government’s budget proposal. “They have launched a fair & lovely yojana... to convert black money to white. Modiji had promised that he will put people with black money behind bars, now they have come up with ways to save those people,” Mr Gandhi said.

Not fair and not lovely, objected the BJP. “Apart from being a line from an advertisement, which is not supposed to be used in Parliament as it promotes a particular product, the connotation is racist and sexist,” sources said, The Times of India reports.

Whether fair or unfair, HUL’s corporate communications department will be popping the champagne bottles and the Fair & Lovely sales team will be working overtime to meet the added demand spurred by the prolific mention of the brand name (and NOT a ‘line from an advertisement’) in media and social media.

And while Mr Modi’s use of the brand name Fevicol wasn’t completely complimentary if dissected as I have done above, Mr Gandhi’s use is a perfect endorsement of the promised virtues of Fair & Lovely. It’s a wonderful illustration of advertising hyperbole, as, certainly, no cream can change black to white.

What HUL will celebrate more than the brand name being quoted is the use of the ampersand in most of the reports. Mr Gandhi did not write the words – he spoke them out loud. He said ‘fair and lovely’, as one might say ‘black and white’ or ‘day and night’.

It’s the media – print, TV, digital and social – that converted the three-letter conjunction ‘and’ into ‘&’, the graphic joiner that the HUL brand inserts between ‘fair’ and ‘lovely’. Many of these worthies have also capitalised ‘fair’ and ‘lovely’: words that don’t normally deserve the capital first letter.

Mr Gandhi cannot be accused of mentioning a brand name. It’s only the media that has done so – and that’s a testament to how HUL has built the Fair & Lovely brand. Consumers, who naturally include journalists, not only recall the name, but also the logo and the logotype unconsciously.

And between the BJP and the media, the brand name will be used consciously for some more time. If the BJP does make an issue (as their spokesman has promised they will) out of Mr Gandhi’s usage, HUL is in for a jackpot as far as free media is concerned.

It is free media that HUL will lap up with pleasure, as it’s another small step in making the market leader Fair & Lovely generic to fairness creams in an overcrowded and lucrative Rs 3,000 crore-plus product category.

When a brand name becomes part of popular culture, it’s a tipping point for the brand. In a way, we’re now witnessing Fair & Lovely’s Kodak moment.

The writer is Editor, Storyboard

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 12:07:19 PM |

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