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Did Dove Remove ‘Normal’ from Packaging So People Don’t Feel ‘Excluded’?

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In March 2021 Unilever and/or Dove removed "normal" from packaging so people wouldn't feel excluded or offended.

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On March 10 2021, Sean Hannity continued his barrage of disinformation about so-called “cancel culture” (which has replaced the phrase “political correctness”) by sharing a claim that Dove had removed the word “normal” from its packaging because it made people feel “excluded”:

Hannity’s tweet cryptically read “Soap next?” — but that was an allusion to the talk show host and disinformation purveyor’s focus on purportedly “canceled” toys, books, and products. In general, March 2021 involved a lot of bad faith lamentations and weaponized disinformation about “cancel culture,” including claims that the following have been targeted for cancellation:

  • Mr. Potato Head (purportedly made “gender neutral” due to offended people);
  • Dr. Seuss (supposedly “canceled” by President Biden himself over racially insensitive content in six specific books), and;
  • Disney and Disney+ (architects of the alleged cancelations of Peter Pan, The Aristocats, and Dumbo).

Hannity published two tweets on March 9 2021 expressing offense at what he claimed was the “canceling” or “purging” of titles from Disney+. It follows that, “Soap next?” meant, to him, that after the “cancelations” of Mr. Potato Head, Dr. Seuss, and Disney classics in such a short span, the inclusivity brigade was subsequently coming for everybody’s bars of soap and nothing is safe.

The link in the tweet validated our assumption. The post (“SOAP NEXT: Unilever to Scrub Word ‘Normal’ from Dove, Other Products Because it ‘Excludes’ People”) began:

Unilever -which owns skincare brands like Dove, Axe Body Spray, and others- announced [on March 9 2021 that] they will no longer use the word “normal” as the term is often deployed to “exclude” people.

A linked March 9 2021 article in the New York Times made clear it was a practical decision made for marketing purposes, not the result of any sort of harassment or bullying:

Maker of Dove Soap Will Drop the Word ‘Normal’ From Beauty Products

Unilever, which owns brands like Dove and Sunsilk, said a study had found that the word “normal” makes most people feel excluded. A spokeswoman said it would remove it from more than 200 products.

The beauty and personal-care company Unilever said on [March 9 2021] that it would no longer use the word “normal” on its products or in its advertising, after a study revealed that it makes most people feel excluded.

Although a surface-level scan of Hannity’s blog post against the Times‘ article revealed the content of the two stories was similar, the Times stated that Unilever’s market research found that the word “normal … makes most people feel excluded.” By contrast — and clearly indicating that his priority is rage-bait and disinformation, rather than offering up vetting information or even simply entertainment — Hannity’s blog switched that out for “the word ‘normal’ … is often deployed to ‘exclude’ people.”

In the source material, Unilever was quoted precisely, and Unilever’s market research findings were quoted. In the Hannity piece, words were arranged to suggest that “normal” people were being pushed aside to accommodate the un-excluded; Hannity subtly suggested the decision was, in effect, excluding “normal people.”

Hannity.com lifted much of the Times‘ quoting — taking the first paragraph in the excerpt below, but eliding the three which followed:

Unilever, a company based in London that owns Dove, Axe, Sunsilk and Vaseline, among other personal-care brands, also said it would not digitally alter the body shape, size or skin color of models in its advertising as part of its Positive Beauty initiative, according to a news release. And the company promised to increase the number of ads featuring underrepresented people, without specifying which groups.

An aim of these steps and others, Unilever said, was to better “challenge narrow beauty ideals.”

The advertising changes came after the company commissioned a 10,000-person study across nine countries, including Brazil, China, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

The study found that 56 percent of participants thought that the beauty industry could make people feel excluded, and that as many as seven in 10 people agreed that the word “normal” on products and in advertising had negative effects. Eight in 10 people agreed among participants age 18 to 35.

The fourth paragraph above clarified that “as many as” 70 percent of respondents responded affirmatively to a question about whether the word “normal” — when used in marketing personal care and beauty items — “had negative effects.” Respondents under the age of 35 were even likelier to agree with the question, at about 80 percent; in other words, it was “normal” to wonder if the descriptor “normal” didn’t fit participants, and between seven to eight in ten of them felt that way.

Almost all reporting on Unilever or Dove’s “normal” survey referenced a March 9 2021 news release from Unilever about the results of its market research:

London – Unilever today announced it will eliminate the word ‘normal’ from all of our beauty and personal care brands’ packaging and advertising, as part of the launch of our new Positive Beauty vision and strategy.

Positive Beauty, which sets out several progressive commitments and actions for our beauty and personal care brands, including Dove, Lifebuoy, Axe and Sunsilk, will champion a new era of beauty which is equitable and inclusive, as well as sustainable for the planet.

[…]

The decision to remove ‘normal’ is one of many steps that we are taking to challenge narrow beauty ideals, as we work towards helping to end discrimination and advocating for a more inclusive vision of beauty. It comes as global research into people’s experiences of the beauty industry reveals that using ‘normal’ to describe hair or skin makes most people feel excluded.

Unilever indicated that it surveyed approximately 10,000 people in nine countries in January and February 2021:

Unilever conducted a global study to investigate people’s experiences and expectations of the beauty industry, and to uncover the positive actions that can be taken to foster a more globally inclusive beauty culture. The research consisted of a 25-minute online survey and covered 10,000 respondents in total across 9 countries: Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the UK and the USA. The sample comprised of 1,000 adults (2,000 adults in the USA) aged 18+ representative of the country’s online demographic.

A list of Unilever’s findings included the following bullet points:

  • More than half of people (56%) think that the beauty and personal care industry can make people feel excluded.
  • People want to see the beauty and personal care industry focusing more on making people feel better, than just looking better (74%).
  • More than half of people (52%) say they now pay more attention to a company’s stance on societal issues before buying products.
  • Seven in ten people agree that using the word ‘normal’ on product packaging and advertising has a negative impact. For younger people – those aged 18-35 – this rises to eight in ten.

The four key points were distinct, with some overlap — Unilever determined that 56 percent of respondents felt that the overall beauty industry “can make people feel excluded,” a fairly vague statement. About three-quarters (74 percent) expressed a preference for “making people feel better” versus “looking better,” and 52 percent said they started examining a brand’s social stance before purchasing.

Finally, between 70 and 80 percent “agreed” (a word which hinted at an “agree” or “disagree” binary or spectrum) that using the word “normal” on product packaging and advertising “has a negative impact.” In the context of Unilever’s market research findings, it was relatively straightforward to infer that people saw the word “normal” on a product designed to enhance their appearance and perhaps felt their unenhanced state was, therefore, somehow not “normal.”

Unilever included remarks by Beauty and Personal Care President Sunny Jain on the findings of the survey:

Sunny Jain, President Beauty & Personal Care, said: “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. As part of this, we are 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. It’s just one of a number of actions we are taking as part of our Positive Beauty vision, which aims not only to do less harm, but more good for both people and the planet.

“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.”

In addition to removing the word ‘normal’, Unilever will not digitally alter a person’s body shape, size, proportion or skin colour in its brand advertising, and will increase the number of advertisements portraying people from diverse groups who are under-represented.

Jain confirmed that Unilever’s retiring the word “normal” was a business decision undertaken to increase sales. The company added that it would cease using digital editing of a person’s appearance in “brand advertising,” and make its advertising more diverse.

In summation, Hannity.com continued its laser-like focus on anything that looked like something the site could reframe as “cancel culture,” and seizing upon Unilever and Dove’s press release about removing the word “normal” from advertisements and packaging. Anyone who took the time to actually read the press release could see that it had concluded that survey respondents saw the word “normal” on a product and felt their their need for the product made them something other than “normal.” However, Hannity and the “cancel culture” brigade removed context from a straightforward press release, twisting it to suggest that broadening marketing campaigns to include more differences between individuals was somehow taking away the fundamental rights of others.