NEW DELHI: Hindustan Unilever, the FMCG giant, is ramping up its digital output in an effort to heighten engagement levels with Indian shoppers.

The manufacturer of Lifebuoy and Surf is one of India's biggest traditional media advertisers, but believes enhancing online capabilities can yield numerous additional benefits.

More specifically, as India's internet population now exceeds 100m people, and constitutes an audience that is youthful and participative, opportunities exist to find novel ways of connecting with customers.

"It's fairly obvious that this is the medium of the future from a reach perspective," Srikanth Shrinivasamadhavan, the firm's general manager, media services, told the Economic Times.

An example of such potential was the Cornetto Luv Reels campaign on Facebook, asking consumers to upload videos of real life or fictional work, which other netizens could vote for.

The best ideas were then adopted, and modified into content shown on MTV, and the company expected little further activity among web users, and was quickly proved wrong.

Given the scale of interest in continuing the enterprise, Hindustan Unilever (HUL) is running a second iteration of the initiative.

"We now realise we are on to a big thing and are making it larger," said Punit Mishra, HUL's category head, ice creams.

Because of the new demands of the Web 2.0 world, HUL understands junior members of its marketing staff may have greater know-how than their otherwise more experienced counterparts.

"This is one space where the pyramid turns upside down and it starts with the youngest one on the team," Misra said.

Recently, Unilever sponsored an exclusive screening of Bollywood film Dabangg on YouTube, the video-sharing platform owned by Google.

It has also created a mobile app for Axe Google deodorant, which downloads in less than 45 seconds despite the fact most wireless subscribers do not have powerful handsets or smartphones.

This builds on the Axe Angels brand hub built on Facebook, currently boasting 1.5m followers in India, and generating considerable insights into the attitudes and habits of buyers.

"Instead of us telling fans what's great about Axe, we've become better listeners," said Srinandam Sundaram, category head, deodorants and oral care, at HUL.

Having similarly established a virtual presence for lines like Close-Up, Sure and Pepsodent, Hindustan Unilever is attempting to track metrics including word of mouth and clickthroughs.

"What we go by is how many people respond, positive or negative? If you look at the self serve ads, you know whether you are going right or wrong," said Sundaram.

"You can see quality and patterns of engagement."

There are challenges to more sophisticated gauges, as demonstrated by Paddle Pop ice cream, which has developed a web game featuring its mascot, a lion.

HUL has made films starring the same character, and aired on the Cartoon Network, in each of the last three years, helping it gain attention on the internet.

"Going after a young audience made it easy to get online," said Misra. "We average 9.2 minutes on the site.

"If you ask a classic marketing question on what the ROI is, it is very difficult to quantify," he added. "On TV you can quote GRP figures. But here you have to experiment."

Data sourced from Economic Times; additional content by Warc staff