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Hindustan Unilever takes another step to evangelise digital; sets up Media Lab

Unilever’s India operations, Hindustan Unilever (HUL), one of the first companies to begin focussing on digital media in the market, has looked at both external and internal ways to evangelise digital in its grand scheme of things. Taking another step in this direction, the company has set up a Media Lab in its Mumbai office. Hindustan Unilever’s agency partner for digital is Omnicom Media Group India. The agency has worked very closely with the company to set up the Media Lab in India.

For Unilever, Media Lab is not a new concept. The company’s Shanghai office too is home to such a facility. In India, the purpose of the Lab is twofold – become a quality check post that certifies any digital communication activity that Unilever brands undertake before it is released in the market and to offer a place to share global Unilever work in digital and inform about all the latest that technology has to offer for connecting with consumers.

According to Atit Mehta, Head – Media Services, South Asia, Unilever, Media Lab is a long term investment for the company. In a conversation with DMA, he said, “Media Lab is another indication of our commitment towards digital. The lab is a way to engage everyone within the company with this medium.”

The Lab is equipped with various devices to test campaigns

Mehta explained that for the various multimedia campaigns that HUL brands release, where digital is increasingly becoming one of the key legs, the Lab works as a checkpoint to ensure that the content that finally crosses over, reaches in its intended form to consumers irrespective the platform they use to access the content. He said, “We are creating websites or an entire gambit for mobile including mobile sites and various digital assets – how do we know that these reach out in their best form to the consumer. Brand teams can now test their final work in the Lab.”

The Lab houses devices ranging from Rs 1500 to Rs 50,000+ that can allow any team to check what the campaign looks like on these devices. All campaigns have to be Media Lab certified prior to release in market.

Media Lab showcases latest tech to engage consumers

To bring more structure to what the Lab can deliver for the company, the team has created a calendar. Some things have been planned in advance. For instance, Monday evenings have been dedicated to learn what Unilever brands are doing globally. Each brand team would spend time in the Lab on Mondays for seeing some of this work firsthand. Some of the other events in the Lab would be more tactical, such as to share any interesting development or insight that employees could learn more about in their free time.

Reflecting a digital mindset
HUL’s focus on digital had begun as early as 2006 when the company had launched Sunsilk Gang of Girls amongst various other initiatives for brands such as Axe and Dove. However, it was in the last three years, that Unilever brought a defined structure in the way it was embracing and educating digital. The external route included domain experts working with the company to educate on changes in digital media or exchange programmes with the likes of Google and Facebook. The internal route on the other hand included a host of activities. In 2010, the company launched Digital Street, where it invited the top technology led media owners for a two-day set up to showcase what they had to offer. In line with Digital Street, the company hosted a Mobile Day last month.

Digital Street was followed by various other initiatives such as the Digital Acceleration Programme, where all HUL employees were trained by experts on how to use digital in day-to-day communication. There also was a Reverse Mentoring initiative, where the company’s managing committee was involved in being updated on not just the latest in digital but also on the most basic aspects of the media as the consumer interacted with it.

One of the most interesting initiatives from the company is the Digital Experimentation Fund that encourages employees to come up with unprecedented ideas. The best five ideas from this are then rolled out in the market. The premise is to either create new successes on the back of digital or bring learnings that can be factored in for future endeavours.

Atit Mehta says digital activates other media

Mehta reiterates that digital can be used to activate other media. The company at present is focussing on five thrust areas – Social, Search, Mobile, Video and Data, Analytics and Insights. Mehta said, “These are our five pillars because this is where consumers are. While the importance of each of this is consumer led and brand driven, for us data and analytics plays a very important role on determining what is working and what is not. We always endeavour to be the best marketing company and we are the best marketing company, but we want to be the best digital marketing company as well. We want to continue this journey and bring thought leadership as we move forward. Our initiatives like the Media Lab are in sync with this mindset.”