Byravee Iyer
Oct 16, 2014

Hindustan Unilever attempts to go from advertiser to publisher

SINGAPORE - A year ago Hindustan Unilever (HUL) quietly embarked on an experimental marketing approach: creating a YouTube channel filled with beauty tips and tutorials from well-known bloggers as a platform to advertise its range of skincare and hair products.

Hindustan Unilever's YouTube channel features Pond's, Dove, Tony & Guy and Lakme
Hindustan Unilever's YouTube channel features Pond's, Dove, Tony & Guy and Lakme

The channel, called ‘Be Beautiful’ features multiple Unilever brands including Pond’s, Lakme, Tony & Guy and Dove. The company partnered with well-known fashion, lifestyle, and beauty bloggers in the country and trained them on how to create high quality video content sharing everything from product reviews to make-up tips to DIY hair styling. The site is not branded and comes across like a consumer initiative; a casual viewer would be hard-pressed to determine that it's a Unilever initiative.

For Unilever, the challenge was to keep up with a changing marketing landscape. “With the internet, the power has shifted to the consumer, and more and more we realise integration is what really matters,” said Hemant Bakshi, executive director, home and personal care, Hindustan Unilever.  

According to Punitha Arumugam, director of agency business with Google India, the web is increasingly becoming an integral part of people’s daily lives in India, and savvy advertisers are already acting on the trend. More importantly, the audience on YouTube is “leaning in”, actively looking to be entertained and engaged, she noted.

Using YouTube data, marketing executives at HUL discovered that women spend considerable time searching for videos, and beauty makes up a large part of that. “Therefore we needed to become a part of what they watched," Bakshi said.

With that in mind, the aim is to take videos to consumers and tell them how to use the products. “The one area we identified was video bloggers,” said Srinandan Sundaram, VP skincare and make up. “They are a credible source of authority for consumers.”

The channel, which features more than 100 videos, has received more than 8.5 million unique users in India and more than 40 million views in the last six months, making it one of the biggest branded channels in India.

It is Arumugam’s view that online video presents marketers with great opportunities and challenges. “In the past, marketers blasted out their message to a captive audience," she said. "Online, brands are finding that they are involved in a two-way conversation where viewers can choose whether to engage or not.”

In April this year, Unilever in the UK launched a similar channel, called ‘All Things Hair’, advertising for brands like Toni & Guy, Dove and VO5. What’s different about this is that it uses Google data to determine what women are searching for and then forwards these queries to popular YouTube stars, who create instructional videos.

Commanding millions of followers, creators are an important part of YouTube. For example, Bethany Mota has more than 5.4 million fans flocking to her channel every day. These fans don’t just watch her on YouTube, they show up, by the thousands, wherever she goes. Mota’s popularity prompted Aeropostale to launch an entire clothing line around her.

“Creators understand the fundamentals of brand-building in a modern digital age: Brands don’t sell brands, people sell brands,” Arumugam said. “The best-performing brands get this and are already becoming content creators on YouTube, publishing large volumes of content on a regular schedule.”


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