We need to craft brands for the connected world: Hemant Bakshi

The Executive Director (Home & Personal Care), HUL talks about brands that last for life & elaborates on the key principles that drive HUL's marketing philosophy at Pitch CMO Summit 2014 in his keynote address

e4m by Abhinna Shreshtha
Updated: Mar 25, 2014 7:44 AM
We need to craft brands for the connected world: Hemant Bakshi

This year’s edition of the Pitch CMO Summit had Hemant Bakshi, Executive Director (Home & Personal Care) of Hindustan Unilever and Chairman of ISA presenting the keynote address on creating brands that last for life. The session was chaired by Sam Balsara, Chairman and MD of Madison World Pitch CMO Summit 2014 was powered by Colors. In an informative session that challenged marketing and brand heads to rethink their marketing strategies to keep up with the changing world, Bakshi highlighted Hindustan Unilever’s marketing philosophy through examples of some of their iconic advertisements and marketing campaigns over the years.

“More than reinventing brands, our job in marketing is about crafting brands for life,” said Bakshi. To highlight the importance of creating brands that can stand the test of time, he cited examples of brands that have stayed in the most trusted brand list even after 15 years. “Three out of the top five trusted brands in India 15 years back are still on the list. Globally, six out of the ten brands have maintained their position.Even with the changes in marketing and development of new ways of marketing, these brands have still managed to remain on the list which proves that they were successful in creating brands for life,” said Bakshi.“The brands we create change and evolve over time but the thought behind them does not,” he further added.

Explaining Unilever’s marketing philosophy, Bakshi said that the company followed three key principles.One of the key things, according to him, is to put people first. “We deliberately call them people and not consumers because when you understand people holistically, you can determine the pivotal role you can play in their life,” he explained.

The second thing is to build, what he called,‘Brand Love’. According to him, there are brands that are respected and some that are very popular, but there are very few brands that are loved by people. “The job of marketing is to build love for our brands so that the memories people associate with them stay on for years,” he explained.The third thing, according to him, is to unlock the magic in the product. A combination of all these things helps in creating a brand that last longer than people.

He narrated an interesting incident in the same context. “Once we had requested to meet Jayalalitha, but we were told that at the most we would get about a minute with her. I realised that she had been the brand ambassador of Lux many years back, so we took a poster of the ad with us and showed it to her. She spent the next half an hour talking about Lux, how it was her first endorsement and how she was not paid anything for it. This is an example of building brands for life,” he said.

He gave more examples of the first Surf ad in the 80s, which was launched to stave off competition from Nirma, the Pond’s Dreamflower Talc ad, which was launched during the early 90s when women were for the first time going out to work in a male-dominated society. The ad, according to him, did not overwhelm the TG (women) but celebrated this changing facet of society. Another, more recent, example he gave was the Lifebuoy “Little Gandhi” commercial of 2003, which shows kids taking up the responsibility of cleaning up their neighbourhood themselves. This idea was later given a local flavour and used in other countries like Pakistan, South Africa, Indonesia, etc.

Explainingthe significance of these campaigns, Bakshi said, “These are films that catch a movement, issues that were important to the society which were truly bigger than the brand. They touch upon an emotion that was significant to people back then. None of the ads have any of the formulas usually seen in advertisements but they highlight the three pillars that I spoke about earlier.”

Bakshi then touched upon another facet - the changes happening in India right now and how marketers can leverage them. There are a large number of people who are connecting in ways not seen before. He gave the example of a woman in a small village. She had no access to TV but had still been able to see the movie ‘Ghajini’ on her mobile phone.

He called this change “dramatic” and called it significantly important from a social perspective. “It is now upto us to figure out how we craft brands for this world. We need to move fast to catch up with consumers who have moved far ahead of us,” he opined.

Bakshi highlighted that the rate of urbanization in the last few years has been second only to China, and this makes it impossible to figure out where ‘urban’ ends and ‘rural’ begins as most of the times, it just seamlessly moves from one to the other. He raised an interesting pointthat almost a third of the rural population in India lives within half an hour of a reasonably large city. There is a large number of people who live in rural areas but the way they consume media and their habits are influenced by urban India.

Other factors that were bringing about rapid change in India were technological advancement and consumer activism. Bakshi said, “The number of ways that people are using technology to connect is also changing India. Another thing that we are all seeing is consumer activism. People want to know who the people behind the brands are and what do brands stand for. We are asked questions that we were not being asked a few years ago.”

How can brands be crafted for a connected world? Bakshi elaborated on the process at Unilever, which wasbroken up into social, mobile, content, commerce and purpose.

Bakshitalked about the Dove digital ad, which showed a forensic artist creating portraits of women based on their descriptions and those given by strangers. The ad has so far received 150 million views and over 4.5 billion global media impressions.More than one-third of the original views had come because Unilever employees shared the film with their friends on social media, not because it was their company’s ad, but because they felt that it was worth sharing.

Unilever has been a firm believer in a strong mobile strategy, having carried out a number of innovative campaigns. “The mobile is transforming our world, our consumers and it will change marketing too. There are 800 million mobiles in the country, with 200 million of them belong with people who cannot be reached via anything else other than mobile,” he said. He mentioned Radio Kaan Khajura, which HUL had launched in Bihar and other states. The concept involved users giving a missed call, which would then allow them to hear the song of their choice on their mobile phone for free. Ads of HUL products were plugged in along with the songs.

He talked about the genesis of soap operas in the US, which he said started because advertisers like Unilever and P&G advertised on them. He opined that advertisers, now, have that opportunity once again, because of options like mobile radio, mobile TV, etc., which gives brands the opportunity to leverage them to engage and reach out to consumers.

Speaking of content, he talked of BeBeautiful.com, a content platform which is agnostic and focuses on providing users with engaging content rather than brand messaging. It currently has 1.2 million users and 1 million Facebook fans. “Increasingly, people will consume content rather than ads. The challenge will be for us to integrate our brand messaging with the content,” said Bakshi. Another example he gave was of an initiative that HUL is undertaking with MTV called MTV Films, which will be a series of short features directed by the leading film directors.

He said, “As a company, our focus is to double the size of our business, while reducing our environmental footprint and making a positive social impact on the life of people. Our brands can play a big role in creating a big, positive impact on society. There are some things that we sweep under the carpet, we are not comfortable speaking about them. But as a big and well-loved brand, it is our duty to take responsibility and highlight some of the less desirable facets of our society.”

To sum up, Bakshi spoke of Lifebuoy’s ad campaigns, which combine all of the above points. “The purpose of Lifebuoy is putting people first,” said Bakshi. He mentioned their on-ground activities carried out in villages to spread awareness about cleanliness and how it helps in preventing diarrhoea.This central idea was also explored in the Lifebuoy commercials. “When all these elements come together in a campaign, right from the product purpose to the execution, you can create magic. Have a clear brand purpose and put people first,” advised Bakshi.

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