NEW DELHI: Hindustan Unilever's creation of an on-demand entertainment channel delivered by mobile phone happened accidentally, but it has succeeded in raising awareness of its brands and picking up a prize at the Cannes advertising festival.

HUL claims that Kan Khajura Tesan or 'The Earworm Channel', which won a gold in the Mobile Lions category at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in the south of France, is now the most popular radio station in the eastern states of Bihar and Jharkhand.

The idea was to reach rural 'media dark' areas where mainstream channels have little penetration. According to HUL, almost one third of the country can be classified this way if one considers places with TV connectivity but an erratic electricity supply.

HUL now reaches these audiences via 15 minute programming blocks interrupted every few minutes by advertising. Users simply call a number and hang up; they are then called back with entertaining content.

"Such ideas seem like someone did it in a structured way but it happened by accident,"Hemant Bakshi, executive director/home and personal care, HUL, told the Economic Times.

The station had its origins in a promotion for Wheel detergent which featured an on-pack missed call promotion that generated a few million calls, many from media dark areas, which prompted HUL to explore this area further.

Bakshi compared the development to the original TV soap operas – dramas sponsored by the likes of Unilever and P&G. "We are doing the same with mobile," he said. "We are paying for airwaves and talktime, making it free for consumers."

Bakshi was coy about the costs involved but the Economic Times noted the scale and opportunities offered by this approach – a database of users which included details like phone numbers, preferred content and the circles they come from – which could evolve into new stations aimed at specific demographic and linguistic groups.

As the number of users grows – HUL is aiming for 25m by the end of this year – and as time spent rises to 45 minutes a day, the station is attracting interest from other advertisers. But, said Bakshi, "we are full up. As the service becomes bigger, we could reach a stage where we have inventory that we can sell outside. At which point, we'd do that."

The value of the station is evident in the figures for brand awareness – up 56% for Pond's skincare, 39% for Closeup toothpaste and 20% for Wheel.

Data sourced from Economic Times, Afaqs; additional content by Warc staff