MUMBAI: Hindustan Unilever is doing more than paying lip service to the concept of corporate social responsibility as its chief executive has said he is putting environmental and social issues at the heart of the business.

"That's why our philosophy of building a new business model is different from CSR which you generally superimpose on the business – the cause-related marketing that you do once in a while or a charity which is left to the whims and fancies of the CEO," Sanjiv Mehta told the Economic Times.

He cited the example of Lifebuoy soap, where a hand wash campaign had helped reduce the incidence of diarrhoea in one community from 36% to 5%. The brand adopted a village to prove the efficacy of hand washing in saving lives, producing a short film to share via social media which was subsequently taken up by mainstream media.

That campaign also ran across several other countries, including Nigeria, Kenya and Indonesia and was longlisted for the 2013 Warc Prize for Innovation. Within India, HUL is now planning to scale it up to reach 45 million people.

"What we are looking at with our hand wash campaign is to change consumer behaviour, which will result in increase in the frequency of use," Mehta said.

Lifebuoy has now overtaken Lux to become the country's most valuable soap brand with a 15.9% share.

The appeal of cause marketing was raised in a 2013 Warc paper on the mid-life crisis that now afflicts many Indian men. Brands could, it suggested, tap into their quest for a more meaningful existence.
Organic food, sustainable living and green energy were all earmarked as areas of appeal for people who wanted to feel they were doing the right thing.

The ultimate 'right thing' might be regarded as saving a life, however, and a Millward Brown analysis of the Lifebuoy campaign calculated that, of the total reduction in diarrhoea-related deaths among children attributable to hand washing, the brand was responsible for 75%.

Data sourced from Economic Times; additional content by Warc staff