LONDON: An increasing number of advertisers are looking to UK consumers to generate ideas for their innovation and communications programmes.

Unilever, the FMCG giant, is establishing dedicated online communities for a number of its brands, with the aim of encouraging web users to submit their ideas to the new product development process.

The owner of Knorr and Dove conducted its most wide-ranging trial of this approach to date in developing Lynx Twist, the latest addition to its deodorant range targeted at young men.

In the first instance, it partnered with Face, a London-based "co-creation planning agency", to conduct discussions with a broad range of netizens.

It then went on to recruit a total of 16 participants, both male and female – and based in Argentina, Germany, the UK and US – to take part in more in-depth research.

Face-to-face interviews were attended by members of its R&D and marketing teams, as well as by representatives from Ponce Beunos Aires, one of the brand's global agencies.

Alongside choosing the name of the new product, this group helped shape its launch campaign, and Lynx Twist is now set to be rolled out worldwide, having hit shelves in the UK last year.

David Cousino, consumer marketing insights global category director at Unilever, said "if you look at what's happening online, not just on the social networks, the consumer has a voice as never before and brands need to listen more."

"Even if a brand doesn't want to engage with consumers on that level, it will be forced to."

Having previously worked with Face to pursue similar initiatives for a number of other brands, including Surf and Comfort, Cousino suggested these schemes were becoming increasingly important.

"There are two ways of doing it. You could wait for something to go wrong and then use the community to fix it, but why not leverage the creative ability in the community that's already out there?" he said.

New Look, the high-street apparel chain, has built its own online community, MyLook, which went live in July 2008, and covers all aspects of its consumer-facing activity.

Oliver Lucas, the company's head of brand planning and customer insight, warned organisations must be clear about the role that this kind of platform is intended to play in their overall strategy.

"There's confusion about where it fits, what it's for and who runs it. It does require a lot of resource because it'll only work if the community is constantly refreshed with content so that customers are given a reason to come back," he said.

Doritos, PepsiCo's snack brand, has also launched a competition, similar to that used for its US Super Bowl spots in the last two years, with a prize of £200,000 ($305,880; €226,762) for the best ad produced by a member of the public.

Pete Charles, marketing manager for the brand, said this market "an incredible opportunity for anyone wanting to make a name for themselves in the world of advertising or to earn a life-changing amount of money."

Data sourced New Media Age/Ad Age; additional content by Warc staff