Cover Unilever bans the word "normal" from its product packaging and advertising (photo: Getty Images)

Has the word 'normal' become too exclusionary for the consumer marketplace?

As part of its new "Positive Beauty" initiative, Unilever—parent company and manufacturer of some of the world's most popular household and personal care brands, including Dove, Hourglass, Seventh Generation, and Knorr—has announced that it's banned the word "normal" from the packaging and advertising of all its products. 

"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," said Unilever President of Beauty & Personal Care Sunny Jain in a statement. "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."

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The move to ban the word "normal" comes after two months of field work around the world that sought to "investigate people's experiences and expectations of the beauty industry," the company explained in the announcement. After conducting 10,000 25-minute surveys across nine countries, including Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, and the United States, the company found that more than half of respondents "think that the beauty and personal care industry can make people feel excluded" and nearly three-quarters of respondents "want to see the beauty and personal care industry focusing more on making people feel better, than just looking better." 

Excising the word "normal" from its brand marketing is part of the company's "global commitments to build a more equitable and inclusive society" through "eradicat[ing] stereotypes" and "creating more opportunities for under-represented groups." Perhaps an argument can be made that employing the word "normal" might necessarily exclude anyone who does not feel they fit into the societal construct of what "normal" might mean, depending on context.

In addition, Unilever has made a commitment going forward to not digitally alter "a person's body shape, size, proportion or skin colour" in advertising; the company will also seek to become more inclusive in ad depictions of people from under-represented backgrounds and groups. Unilever has also made a commitment to regenerate 1.5 million hectares of land, forests, and oceans by the year 2030 as well as ending product animal testing by 2023.