HUL's first copy: Emami
Created on 13 Dec 2021
Wraps up in 5 Min
Read by 4.9k people
Updated on 11 Sep 2022
Cheater cheater, pumpkin eater. Had a brand, but could not keep up.
How do you start your day? I’ll go first. I brush (use the red Closeup), have my morning tea (usually Red Label, occasionally Lipton), shower (Dove, on days I want a milk soap, Pears, on days I want glycerine), and then doll up for office (Lakme). All brands of Hindustan Unilever Ltd.
There is a ‘Hindustan’ in Hindustan Unilever Ltd., but, BUT, it is not a Hindustani brand. HUL is a subsidiary of a British-Dutch MNC, Unilever. Look at our desh bhakti; an MNC puts a ‘Hindustan’ in front of its name, and its products get used in 98% of Indian households, that is 135 crores of people.
Sometime around the 1880s, the Duchesses were bringing a company, Margarine Unie, into form. Back then, demand for expensive butter was rising and there was a dire need to find an alternate. Thus, they found a way to convert animal fat to margarine. And the company started with the production of margarine commercially.
A few years later, two brothers thought of civilizing the civilization a bit more across borders in Britain and decided to make the world’s first soap. They found a way to use animal fat (margarine) to make beauty products. Thus, the company Lever Brothers came into existence.
Margarine Unie soon had an eye on the Lever Brothers and proposed to merge. And so, in 1929, they merged to form Unilever.
In 1931, Unilever set up its first Indian subsidiary, Hindustan Vanaspati Manufacturing Company, followed by Lever Brothers India Limited (1933) and United Traders Limited (1935). These three companies merged to form HUL in November 1956.
The flowchart below explains the history.
New Brand in the Race
Fast forward 45 years, an Indian copycat, Emami, was formed by two friends. They were Radhe Shyam Agrawal, whom we shall call RS1, and Radhe Shyam Goenka, who will be called RS2. Although unintentionally, could we agree that they even copied each others’ names? 😉 RS1 and RS2 were childhood friends. Before RS1 and RS2 founded Emami, they failed in multiple businesses before settling for corporate jobs.
Now, let's start our story. When RS1 and RS2 initially started businesses together, they borrowed a sum of money from RS2’s father and failed terribly. They kept no accounts of money. Their packaging was not good, and above all, they sold goods at very low profits. They gave up their idea of business and started working their 9 to 5 jobs in the Birla Group.
After a few years in their jobs, they both realized their hearts lie in business. So they started a business again, Kemco Chemicals, which later became Emami. It took them a few years to learn their lessons, but boy-oh-boy, when they did, they became the best in the biz!
Eventually, Emami succeeded. Reasons you wonder? No quality cosmetics were available in those times, and imports were charged 140% tax. Emami changed its packaging to make it look imported, and sales accelerated. Also, wholesalers used to get a 10% margin on other products. In Emami, it was 400% because they saved a lot on taxes that they otherwise had to pay for the imported products.
And then, they started playing dirty. This time being a little careful, they thought, let’s make something that is already there in the market. This is fine, and most companies do this. What most companies don’t do is copy other brands' names and modify them a bit to form their own brands like Emami did!
A question for you. The best product that Emami sells is Boroplus. Can you recall something similar, something famous with a similar name? Yes, you are right! It’s Boroline.
We get that Boroplus is an antiseptic cream as well, but the least they could do is be a little creative and name it something unique, maybe something like Ema-Plus (oops! Did we just copy the copiers?) But wait, Emami’s copycatting doesn’t end here. It starts here:
HUL’s Vaseline; Emami’s Vasocare.
HUL’s Pond’s cold cream, Emami’s Emami cold cream.
HUL to Emami:
Such an uncanny resemblance, no? But we have a winner here. HUL’s Fair & Lovely! It was introduced in the Indian market in 1975, and by the time the century ended, it became a complete hit.
Guess what Emami came up with? Fair & Handsome. Ta-daa! SO original. 😑 Now it was time to turn the tables around. Keep track guys, which product is of which company and who copied whom.
Emami’s Fair and Handsome was launched in 2005 and was an instant hit. Something specifically targeted for men’s beauty was a first in the Indian market. And naturally, most Indian households had a Fair & Lovely (of HUL) for the lady and a Fair & Handsome (of Emami) for the hunk.
HUL thought, ‘Ah nice, this is a good opportunity' and copied the copycat. They came up with Men’s Fair & Lovely. The story wouldn’t be interesting if this ended here.
What's Your Number?
Do you remember this? Every pack of Fair and Lovely had this Fairness Meter. People would check their complexion number on Day 1 before applying the cream and then on Day 7, making themselves believe that the number shifted positively.
Do you remember the ads as well? Depressed dark-coloured women, who were not paid heed to anywhere, were suddenly noticed by men and people as their skin-lightening cream worked. Wrong on so many levels!
After the Black Lives Movement, things changed. Colourism was looked down on. And if a brand propagated racial stereotypes with the main motto being ‘fairness cream’ for men and women, wouldn’t the goodwill be flushed into the gutter?
HUL vs Emami
In response to the global backlash, HUL decided to rebrand Fair and Lovely to Glow and Lovely. And Fair and Lovely for Men to Glow and Handsome.
But they were a week late. Emami digitally announced its rebranding as Emami Glow and Handsome a week before HUL announced its rebranding. And this invited a chain of exchange of harsh words between two grand Indian FMCG brands.
When HUL announced that Fair and Lovely for Men would be rebranded as Glow and Handsome, Emami had some strong reactions and words for HUL - “Although shocked, we are not surprised to note HUL’s unfair business practice, which has been prevalent time & again to damage our brand image,”
Emami threatened HUL with a legal suit. HUL was like bring it on! And Emami did. The matter eventually went to court. The court observed that by the time Emami was ‘in the process of launching' the rebranded goods, HUL had already brought the goods to market.
And it was observed that HUL was the prior adopter of Glow and Handsome, having filed an application for registration of the brand name in September 2018. Emami only filed for the trademark in June 2020.
That, indeed, was a smart move. It made HUL win the brand name's trademark despite not originally being the true owners. As of August 2020, The Bombay High Court has restrained Emami from using “Glow and Handsome.” And HUL is back on the throne.
And this is what it looks like today. HUL to Emami: “Who’s laughing now?” Meanwhile, in the years after the incorporation of both these companies, they have been through the mud for various other scams, and that is a story for some other day.
Until then, Savdhan rahe satark rahe.
If you have read this far, you might also be interested to read How Colgate defeated Unilever and P&G!
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