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Digital becomes one of HUL’s lead media

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Digital becomes one of HUL’s lead media

In three short years, HUL’s (Hindustan Unilever) approach towards digital has transformed. Where in the year 2009-2010, the company was still stuck in the ‘why digital’ phase with only a miniscule number of brands active on the media, by 2011, digital was part of the mix even though, but by the admission of Abhiroop Chuckarbutty, Media Director – South Asia, Unilever, it was not well thought through or integrated into the overall marketing strategy.

“Unless consumers really like what you have done, there is no reason for them to share it,” Abhiroop pointed out, adding that the corporate major has taken significant steps to make digital an integral part of Unilever’s marketing offer. In one year’s time the spends on digital increased drastically to become one of Unilever’s lead media and the number of brands active on digital were also doubled. The company appointed a dedicated digital resource for innovation and planning.

By 2015, 70 per cent of all TV viewers will also be internet users. The expected number of TV households then would be in the vicinity of 780 million, pegging the number of internet users at 550 million. Of this, 70 per cent would come from mobile taking the number of mobile internet users to 350 million. According to the MMA Mobile Ad Spends report, powered by exchange4media, the current number of mobile internet users is over 120 million.

Future Walk: Mobile, Video, Social, Search
For Unilever, the platforms of the future are mobile, video, social and search and the company is expected to increase its marketing spends across these platforms. Quoting the examples of mobile, Abhiroop informed that by July 2011, HUL had already spent more than what the company had spent in the whole of 2011. MMA-e4m Mobile Ad Spends report pegs the growth of the media at 40 per cent. Citing this, Abhiroop said, “On mobile specifically, we expect to grow ahead of the industry.”

He was quick to however point out that the lack of measurement was a key issue, since measurement will drive the adoption of digital by brands. He said, “As marketers, it is our responsibility to understand changing consumer behaviour and cater to it but is not important for the other constituents of the industry, such as agencies working on the media to understand what the marketer wants.”

Nonetheless, by the end of the year, digital would be one of the largest media for Unilever. He said, “As an organisation, this is our priority. While we are spending on the media, we are also engaging in pre and post studies to study the efficiency of the medium – that is the only way this industry is going to leapfrog into growth. And the likes of Google and Facebook are partnering us in this journey, where they foot half the bill in some cases.”

Abhiroop cited two examples - work done for Wheel in the traditionally media dark areas of UP and Bihar and consumer promotion using couponing solutions done for Clinic Plus – where mobile augured desired results for the brand.

Digital spends to triple in the next three years
Unilever has “disproportionately resourced itself” to be able to address the growing demand of digital. “We had done the same in modern trade and we continue to reap rewards,” said Abhiroop.

The operating word for the company on digital is ‘experiment’. Abhiroop said that a mindset change can be bought out if one is willing to tackle the problem. Putting the money where its word is, Unilever has in fact set aside an amount, equivalent to its digital spends in 2010, as a pool from where all brand managers could experiment and share learnings. He said, “We would fail and learn rather than miss the bus.”

He reiterated the importance of measurement, stating that that would always be at the heart of the growth of any media. The other aspect at the core was building content capability, because without that, one could not be sure on where to spend. The company is also focussing on building capability across levels. He also stressed on the importance of right partners, stating, “We need help in bridging the journey. In the next three years, digital spends will triple if not more and we need the partners to work with us in that phase.”

Abhiroop was speaking at the Mobile Marketing Association’s MMAF 2012, organised in association with exchange4media, in Delhi on September 21, 2012.

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