4 min read.Updated: 24 Jun 2020, 08:32 PM ISTLata Jha
Shaadi.com, referred to the skin tone option as a 'product debris we missed removing' and that 'it was not serving any purpose as the filter didn't work and the searches would show matches of all skin tones'
Matrimonial website Shaadi.com is the latest entrant to the club of brands that have responded to consumer demand for taking on racial biases that exist in marketing operations and strategies, much like the society we live in. The company that plays matchmaker has removed the skin filter option from its app, after an online petition by a woman in Dallas, USA who along with another user questioned the filter in light of the recent anti-racism protests.
When users joined the site, they were asked to select how dark or light their skin was under the 'skin tone' option. They could further search for potential partners basis the skin tone they'd selected. Shaadi.com, referred to the skin tone option as a ‘product debris we missed removing’ and 'that it was not serving any purpose as the filter didn't work and the searches would show matches of all skin tones' according to a BBC report. Media industry experts say it was quick in responding to the anti-racism protests that have intensified across the world after the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police in the US this May which has led to the hashtag ‘BlackLivesMatter’ trending across the globe since.
"There is no skin color filter on Shaadi.com, on any of its platforms. What is being referred to is several year old product debris left-over in one of our advanced search pages on the website, which is non-functional and barely used and hence it did not come to our attention," a Shaadi.com spokesperson said. “When a user highlighted this, we were thankful and had the remnants removed immediately as it was a non-functional aspect of the product which very few users even stumbled across. Since there was no user impact and product debris is a fairly common occurrence in tech companies, we took it in our stride accordingly. We do not discriminate based on skin color and our member base is as diverse and pluralistic as the world today is."
Surinder Singh Jodhka, professor of sociology at the Jawaharlal Nehru University said while this is one way for a brand to appear progressive, it also helps a lot more people become aware of these questions of inequality that can continue to be raised as conversations evolve though complete structural change is unlikely.
The US may have seen its first African American president in Barack Obama but we still need these conversations around racism to keep rolling for incremental change, he added.
To be sure, Shaadi.com is not the only brand keen to appear conscious and sensitive about the colour debate. Earlier this month, Johnson & Johnson said it was discontinuing its Neutrogena Fine Fairness line, which is available in Asia and the Middle East, and its Clear Fairness by Clean & Clear line, which is available in India, both of which feature products that lighten skin tones. Companies like Unilever, Proctor & Gamble, and L’Oréal have also come under the scanner for continuing to sell skin-whitening products under brands like Garnier and Olay. The pressure to look good and ape celebrities and a sense of inferiority around dark skin remains in India, it is therefore not surprising that according to the India Fairness Cream & Bleach Market Overview, 2018-2023 report, the women's fairness cream category is anticipated to achieve market revenues of more than Rs. 5,000 crore by year 2023.
Meanwhile, HBO Max has taken off Hollywood classic Gone with the Wind from its streaming service after critics attacked its depiction of slavery and pointed out that it perpetuated “painful stereotypes of people of colour." Across the world, brands like Netflix, Google, Twitter, Citigroup, Ben & Jerry’s, Mozilla, Upwork, Nike and Reebok have taken a bold stand supporting the Black Lives Matter campaign, either through video campaigns or social media profiles.
Brand experts, however, are wary of seeing this as a sign of concrete change while admitting it is good PR.
“A lot of this is the result of active social media trolling and the brand realising the tremendous PR that the sacrifice of a button can make," Sandeep Goyal, chairman, Mogae Media, a Mumbai- based marketing and communication agency said in reference to the Shaadi.com filter option. Goyal termed the move as moment marketing or the ability of a company or brand to ride the wave and maximize the opportunity arising out of a topical conversation. The truth is, he said, concepts like fair skin are so deeply embedded in our social and cultural thinking that a move like this doesn’t really make a difference. Take for instance, the scores of newspapers that carry matrimonial ads demanding fair-skinned matches or films and television shows that advocate the idea of fair as beautiful.
“It would, however, be interesting to see if competing matrimonial websites also do something like this," Goyal pointed out. Shaadi.com’s competitor Jeevansaathi declined to comment on the story.
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