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India’s HUL going strong on digital spend

To focus on the next generation of consumers growing up in India who are digitally savvy and turn to their mobiles as the first source of information, Hindustan Unilever, the INR 220 billion (USD 4.03 billion) consumer packaged goods company, is looking to spend heavily in digital campaigning and online branding activities.

According to a recent report by Economic Times, HUL is planning to triple its ad spend in the digital space in FY13. The share will stand at 7 percent of the total of INR 26.35 billion (around USD 482 million) – this was the total as spend for 2012. In 2014 the share is expected to be around 10 percent of the total. In fact the company is not looking at digital advertising and branding as an add-on to the traditional medium, but as a separate media to focus on new set of consumers – the young adults. Online strategy currently stands at number two position after television for HUL.

In the news report Hemant Bakshi, executive director-home & personal care, HUL was quoted saying that the company found its young consumers spending nearly four hours daily in the digital space. “The reality is that consumers in the digital space have moved on much faster than companies have,” Economic Times quoted Bakshi saying. That is why the brands have to gear up to the market and consumer need.

Gear up, HUL did by chalking out its BE Digital strategy in 2012 – it is an India specific plan to promote HUL’s premium brands like Tresamme, Sunsilk, Lakme, Close-up and Surf online. The reason – focus audience s online most of the time whether on a mobile device or on the personal computer. In fact the company is thinking digital first instead of digital last by integrating social media and mobile into its marketing strategy for a holistic approach. For instance with its newly launched hair care brand Tressame, it set up the virtual Tressame Style Studio, a styling website with 100-odd videos on hair styling. The site also has a good interactive feature which allows women to use their webcam and style along with the video in real time. It also has hair makeover tools to show the styles that best work for one. HUL’s Sunsilk Keratinology, a premium hair care range is also being promoted through its virtual hair studio on YouTube – the studio attracted over one million views within the first week of going live. According to Bakshi, these moves have given the brands a very high return on investments have been more than expected in building the brand image and awareness.

The digital initiative for the brand had started a few years ago when it had launched its hair and beauty websites Bebeautiful.in, and Sunsilkgangofgirls.com. Besides promoting its hair care, skin and makeup brands, the company is also looking to promote the detergent segment via digital and mobile medium. In fact a promotion via mobile to create brand recall for its washing detergent brand Wheel in two Indian states got an unexpected result. The company has actually set up ‘digital experimentation fund’ to encourage employees to come up with innovative ideas to promote the 35 brands under HUL’s umbrella over the digital medium. The efforts have shown great results as the company claims.